The law doesn’t force anyone to accept an inheritance, in Ohio or elsewhere. However, you can’t simply shake your head and walk away if you don’t want a bequest left to you by someone who has died. You must follow certain procedures to legally disclaim it, and you should read the decedent’s will first to determine what happens to your inheritance if you don’t accept it. It might end up going to an individual you'd prefer not to receive it.
Ohio requires that you disclaim your inheritance in writing. You must do so before the executor settles the estate. Because Ohio has an estate tax, which the executor must pay before closing the estate, this might take 15 months or more. Generally, you would file your written disclaimer in the probate division of Ohio’s Court of Common Pleas and provide a copy to the estate’s executor. If you’re disclaiming a real estate inheritance, you must also file a copy with the recorder of the county where the property is located.
Distribution of Disclaimed Property
A decedent’s will usually specifies what becomes of an inheritance you don’t wish to accept. For example, if a lawyer drafted the will, it probably includes language to the effect that your bequest will pass to someone else if you die before the decedent. Ohio law treats a disclaimed inheritance as though you had predeceased the testator -- the decedent who left the will. Your inheritance would pass back to the estate and ultimately go to the person or persons the decedent named. If the will doesn’t contain such provisions, your bequest goes to the first person in line to inherit under Ohio’s intestacy succession laws. Ohio law doesn’t give you the right to say who should receive your inheritance in your place.
When someone dies without a will in Ohio, his property passes to his closest relatives in an order called intestate succession. The law is complicated, but distribution of the estate generally depends on whether the decedent left a surviving spouse and children, and whether those children are also the children of his surviving spouse. His spouse and children are always first in line to inherit, if they're living. Therefore, your disclaimed bequest would go to these individuals if the will doesn't provide for someone else to receive it. If the decedent died without a will, your disclaimed inheritance would pass to the next person in line to inherit after you.
Read More: The Effect of Abandonment of Heirs on Intestate Succession
You do not have the right to "undo" your disclaimer. Ohio law doesn’t permit you to reserve that right in case you change your mind, and after the estate is settled, distribution of your bequest to another heir is final. You lose your right to disclaim your bequest if you accept any portion of it. For example, you can’t accept interest generated by an investment account, then disclaim the account.
If you’re not comfortable with what happens to your bequest after you disclaim it, either because of the terms of the decedent’s will or because of Ohio’s line of intestate succession, you have the right to accept it and give it to whomever you choose. For example, you may have children, but the will does not specifically leave your inheritance to them if you disclaim it, so it would go to someone else. You can take the inheritance and set it aside in trust for your children. However, there may be tax ramifications, so speak to a financial advisor first.
- Ohio State University: Estate Planning Considerations for Ohio Families
- Ohio State Bar Association: I Just Inherited Money! Now What Do I Do?
- LAWriter Ohio Rules and Laws: 5815 Disclaiming Testamentary and Nontestamentary Succession to Real and Personal Property
- MedLawPlus.com: Ohio Intestate Succession Laws
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.