• 54°

Legal will deals with property distribution

Dear Lawyer Mark: I have a question about inheriting stuff when someone dies. I have a friend that has no family, and I mean like, literally, nobody. He’s never been married, and he’s an only child. He said that his mom and dad were only children, and his grandparents and great- grandparents was, too. When he was alive, his dad told him he researched the family history, and it was only childs all the way back to the Civil War. His parents died a few years ago, and he has no relatives now. We always joke about it (I told him he can’t move to West Virginia because he doesn’t have any cousins to marry), but when I told him I had a will done to leave stuff to my step-kids when I die, he said he never did one. That got me thinking, what would happen to his stuff? I hope you can answer that one. — Puzzled in Pedro

Dear Puzzled: First, everyone should have a will (and especially your friend). A will is a legal document that sets forth somebody’s wishes for how they want their property given out when they die, and who they want to be in charge of seeing that it’s done correctly. When a person dies, everything they own, and all their debts, becomes what is called their “estate.” The act of selling these items or giving them away is called a “distribution” in legalese, and it is done by the person the probate court says should be in charge of the estate. If the deceased person left a will that says who they want to be in charge, that person is called the executor; if there is no one designated in the will, or no will, the person appointed is called the administrator. This person has the job of making sure all the debts are paid, and then that all the property leftover is distributed properly.

If the person has a will, the executor gives the remaining property to the people listed in the will. If there is no will, the remaining property is given to the heirs, in the order that state law says they should receive it.

This law is called the “Statute of Descent and Distribution,” and in Ohio is set forth in Revised Code Section 2105.06.

This law has eleven subsections of distribution to show who should receive the property in any given situation.

The first five deal with those situations where the deceased was married and/or had children. If none of those sections apply, as in your case, then everything gets left to the deceased person’s parents.

If there are no parents, then everything goes to siblings or half-siblings of the deceased. Because your friend is an only child, that doesn’t apply, and we move on to the next one: his grandparents. As they are also deceased, the next subsection says that any descendant of the grandparents then inherits. Because they are all deceased, you basically look to see if there is any blood relative of the deceased (referred to as “next of kin.”) You said there aren’t any, so there are only two more subsections to go.

Next to last is stepchildren. Yes, you read that correctly. If you were married, raised a stepchild from a young age, and your spouse died before you, your estate would go to a mean cousin that you hate instead of the stepchild you raised if you don’t have a will.

The final subsection tells us where your friend’s property is going if he doesn’t make a will. Revised Code Section 2105.06(K) says that if there are no living blood relatives and no step-children of the deceased, the property will “escheat to the state.” In other words, he is donating everything he owns to the State of Ohio.

Thought for the Week: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” – Benjamin Franklin

It’s The Law is written by attorney Mark K. McCown in response to legal questions received by him. If you have a question, please forward it to Mark K. McCown, 311 Park Avenue, Ironton, Ohio 45638, or e-mail it to him at LawyerMark@yahoo.com. The right to condense and/or edit all questions is reserved.