When it comes to settling an estate, a number of people will have significant power and influence over the process and, ultimately, the outcome. These include:
Executor: Is the person who will be in charge of the estate during the probate process. A decedent typically chooses this person as part of their Last Will and Testament, or in other estate-planning documents. If no person has been chosen, the court will appoint someone, usually from among a decedent’s closest relatives. This person will be called an administrator or personal representative. An executor can also be a beneficiary, or heir, which can complicate matters when it comes to self-dealing and/or acting in the best interest of an estate. Unlike many states, Ohio does not bar someone with a criminal record from serving. However, they must be bonded and insured, which means they will need to have a solid credit rating.
Administrator: Also called a personal representative. This person fulfills the same role as an executor, except he or she is appointed by the court in cases where a preferred executor has not been identified by a decedent.
Trustee: A trustee is the person identified as being in charge of a trust. Many trusts, including Revocable Living Trusts, allow a decedent to be the trustee during his or her lifetime. Generally a successor trustee is named as part of the trust documents. Like an administrator or executor, this person will be in charge of distributing assets in accordance with trust documents. However, trust distribution typically occurs outside the probate court process, which means a trustee is granted more autonomy and will often be acting without court supervision.
Guardian: A guardian is appointed to handle the affairs of a person who is incapaciated or has been determined to be incompetent.
Conservator: This is a voluntary guardian named by a person to handle his or her affairs while they are still alive.
Each of these positions have significant authority when it comes to managing the assets and affairs of a loved one. Serious issues can arise at any point in the process, but particularly in cases where family members disagree with a chosen or appointed representative. Particularly problematic are cases where someone acted as a guardian or conservator while a decedent was alive, and then takes on an administrative role in settling an estate.
In cases where there are significant disagreements about who is appointed to such roles, the time to consult with an experienced probate lawyer in Cleveland is before such decisions are made.
Ohio’s probate court process is designed to be streamlined, and to settle estates in a timely fashion (usually six months). Seeking legal help as early as possible is the best course of action when it comes to protecting your rights.
Likewise, executors, administrators and trustees of estates where there is significant disagreement should also consult with an experienced Cleveland probate attorney. These positions can leave you financially liable for errors or mistakes and attorney fees are typically paid for out of the estate when help is sought in advance to avoid such issues.
Too often, family members believe hiring a probate attorney will make matters even more contentious. On the contrary, experienced probate lawyers know how to take the emotion out of the process, and are experienced professionals when it comes to resolving differences. In many cases, family members and heirs can respect resolutions and agreements presided over by an attorney in ways that they cannot when it comes to dealing with a sibling or other family member who has been temporarily placed in a position of authority. Ultimately, this can result in settling an estate in a more timely fashion, with fewer disagreements, in a way that preserves long-term relationships among family members.
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.