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Concealment of Probate Assets

Probate is the process of settling the estate of a deceased person, which includes an accounting of assets, payment of debts and a final distribution of assets. However, it’s important to note that not all assets go through probate court. In fact, the settlement of some well-planned estates may bypass the probate process entirely. 

Probate Assets & Concealment Fraud

To begin the process, the court will point someone to administer the estate. This personal representative is often chosen by the deceased via a Last Will and Testament or other estate-planning document. If no such person has been chosen, if the person is found unfit to serve, or if the person declines to serve, the court will appoint someone to fill the role of administrator. 

Ohio has two streamlined processes to settle smaller estates. A Release from Administrative Process will expedite estates valued at less than $35,000, or $100,000 in cases where a spouse is the sole heir. A Summary Release from Administrative Process will require no probate at all for estates valued at less than $5,000 or $45,000 when the spouse is the sole heir. 

However, for the majority of estates, the probate process will include designating a personal representative, accounting of assets, payment of debts, and distribution of remaining assets to designated heirs in accordance with a decedent’s Last Will in Testament. In cases where there is no Will, called Intestate estates, distribution will occur in accordance with Ohio law, which in general recognizes immediate relatives - spouses, children and parents - before more distant relatives. 

Concealment of assets can occur at all parts of the process, but particular attention should be given to those assets that transfer outside the probate process. 

Probate and Non-Probate Assets in Ohio

Experienced probate fraud lawyers in Cleveland know heirs frequently rely upon the probate court to provide supervision throughout the process. Many fail to understand that significant assets often transfer outside court supervision. 

Probate assets include  bank accounts in the decedent's name with no co-owner and no beneficiary designation; real estate owned by the decedent or that is owned as tenants in common; stocks, bonds and other investments owned by the decedent without named beneficiaries, and personal property such as cars, collectibles, jewelry, household furniture, and other personal assets. 

However, many assets do not go through probate, including property held in some trust accounts, real estate owned as Joint Tenants with a Right of Survivorship or Tenancy By the Entirety, life insurance and retirement accounts with named beneficiaries, and accounts that are Payable on Death or Transferable on Death. 

Hidden Assets in Estate Settlement

Experienced probate fraud lawyers in Cleveland see a number of common scenarios that result in hidden assets:

  • Those designated as administrators or executors will have an outsized role when it comes to estate distribution. Fraud, self-dealing, or not acting in the best interest of the estate can result in many scenarios where assets are not properly valued or distributed. This can be especially true if the same person also served as a guardian or conservator while the decedent was alive. 
  • Undervaluing assets, such as real estate. 
  • Changing beneficiaries for accounts that are POD or TOD and thus transferred outside court supervision. 
  • Failure to disclose significant personal assets, such as cash kept at home, valuable collectibles and jewelry. 
  • Removing assets from accounts in the months before the decedent passes. 

In some cases, assets may be more properly identified as lost rather than hidden. Most personal representatives are not professionals when it comes to estate settlement. Accounts and other assets may simply be missed during the estate accounting process. This is another reason why it can be well worth it to consult with an experienced probate fraud lawyer in Cleveland. 

Daniel McGowan represents clients in probate and estate matters throughout the Cleveland area, including Lakewood, Rocky River, Fairview Park, Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights, South Euclid, East Cleveland, Linndale, Brooklyn, Parma, Brook Park. Newburgh Heights, Cuyahoga Heights, Brooklyn Heights, Warrensville Heights, Maple Heights, Garfield Heights, Bratenahl and Euclid.

Call 216-242-6054 today for a free and confidential consultation.

Law Offices of Daniel McGowan, LLC is a full-service law practice, with extensive experience in the areas of litigation and trial practice, elder law, and probate law and trust law. The information on this website, however, is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. Each legal situation is unique and you should consult with a reputable attorney regarding your specific circumstances.
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