Great Estates Program
This program is designed to help residents protect their assets, during their lifetime and for their loved ones. The Great Estates Program provides all the information and tools needed to stay out of probate court and avoid unnecessary costs and delays in settling an estate. View the Great Estates presentation.
Real Estate Documents
Payable on Death (P.O.D.) Bank Accounts
One way for individuals to ensure that the assets in their bank accounts are passed directly to a beneficiary is to create a P.O.D. account. You must have the name, address, and social security number of the intended beneficiary, and the bank information where the account is held. Upon the death of the account holder, the money is paid directly to the P.O.D. beneficiary. Importantly, the beneficiary will be unable to access the account until after the death of the account holder.
It is also important to know that the funds in the bank account will be passed only to the named beneficiary. Therefore, if an account holder instructs the named beneficiary to distribute the funds in the bank account to other individuals upon their death, the named beneficiary is not legally required to do so.
Another way to ensure that a particular individual receives the funds in a bank account is to create a joint account. However, it is important to know that a joint account creates co-ownership of the bank account and that all named co-owners have complete access to the account. Therefore, any named co-owner will be able to withdraw money from the account at any time and the bank account is subject to the co-owner’s creditors.
Personal Property Documents
Motor Vehicle Transfer on Death (T.O.D.)
There are two options offered by the State of Ohio to assist in the estate planning of titled possessions: Transfer on Death (“TOD”) and With Rights of Survivorship (“WROS”).
Transfer on Death (T.O.D.)
A T.O.D. title allows the titled vehicles to be transferred to one or more beneficiaries outside of Probate Court. Beneficiaries can be added or removed at any time, and a beneficiary can be an individual, corporation, organization, trust, or other legal entity. Further, a T.O.D. can be added to a title with W.R.O.S. (2 owners). However, a T.O.D. cannot be added to a title that has a lien unless the lienholder gives prior written authorization to do so.
To add or remove a “TOD”, a Transfer on Death Beneficiary Designation/Removal Affidavit Form must be completed and notarized at the time of title transfer. To reissue a title to include a T.O.D. notation, there is a small fee. You will need the original title, the names of the intended beneficiaries (up to two) and their addresses and social security numbers.
At death, ownership of the vehicle passes to the T.O.D. beneficiary by bringing the motor vehicle title with T.O.D. designation and the owner’s death certificate to an Ohio BMV Title Bureau.
Contact information for title bureaus located in Cuyahoga County are provided at the end of the Guide.
With Rights of Survivorship (W.R.O.S.)
A Joint Owner W.R.O.S. title allows the titled vehicles to be transferred to the surviving joint owner outside of Probate Court. To create a valid W.R.O.S., both owners must be living but do not have to be related. A W.R.O.S. title can be created even when there is a lien on the title. It is important to note that the joint owner has a vested interest in the vehicle, which generally means that the vehicle cannot be sold or transferred without their signature and the vehicle would also be subject to their creditors.
To add a W.R.O.S. designation to the title, request that it be added to your title at the time of purchase or title transfer. If the title is already in your name, you can apply for a replacement title and add the W.R.O.S. designation.
It is important to know the difference between a title issued in joint owners’ names and a title with the W.R.O.S. designation. A title merely issued in the name of joint owners DOES NOT automatically include the W.R.O.S. designation. This means that upon the death of one of the owners, that deceased owner’s interest is considered an estate asset requiring probate proceedings to transfer the deceased owner’s interest.
Motor Vehicle Transfers and a Surviving Spouse
A surviving spouse may transfer motor vehicles, up to $65,000 in value, by bringing the deceased spouse’s death certificate to the title bureau. A lien on the title will not affect the ability to transfer a title to a surviving spouse.
The surviving spouse is able to complete transfers of with motor vehicles, watercrafts, and outboard motors. The surviving spouse is not permitted to transfer mobile homes or recreational vehicles.
Boats, Campers, Recreational Vehicles and Mobile Homes
To transfer a boat, camper, recreational vehicle and/or mobile home to another individual without probate proceedings, these vehicles require a Joint Owner W.R.O.S. or a T.O.D. title. With a Joint Owner W.R.O.S. or a T.O.D. title, the transfer process is similar to the process for motor vehicles described above.
There is a small fee to re-issue a vehicle title with a T.O.D. notation.
Transfer on Death (T.O.D.) notation may be placed on vehicle titles at:
27029 Brookpark Road Extension
North Olmsted, OH 44070
Monday: 8:30am – 4:30pm
Tuesday: 8:30am – 6:00pm
Thursday & Friday: 8:30am – 4:30pm
Saturday: 8:30am – 12:30pm
Stocks & Bonds
Shares of Stock
Most stocks are held in mutual fund accounts which allow the owner to designate a beneficiary prior to their death. An individual may place a T.O.D. notation on shares of stock through the issuer of the stock. If there is not a designated co-owner or designated beneficiary named, the stocks are considered estate assets requiring transfer through Probate Court proceedings.
To bypass Probate Court proceedings, a savings bond must be registered with either (1) a co-owner or (2) a named beneficiary designation. Therefore, the bond(s) must be jointly owned or have an official T.O.D. notation to transfer directly to the surviving co-owner or beneficiary. If an individual holds bonds only in their name, the bonds are considered an estate asset requiring transfer through Probate Court proceedings.
To add a co-owner to a bond, or to designate a T.O.D. beneficiary, visit www.treasurydirect.gov.
CDs, Life Insurance, Annuities, Investment Accounts, Retirement Accounts, IRAs, 401Ks and 403Bs
You should have a beneficiary designation on all long-term investments to help bypass the assets being transferred through Probate Court proceedings. Typically, when an individual acquires life insurance or investment accounts, beneficiary designations can be added by completing the proper form. In order to determine if there are named beneficiaries, you should check your beneficiary designation forms online or ask the issuer for a copy of the forms.
It is important to know that if you name “your estate” as a beneficiary on the beneficiary designation form, the asset will have to transfer through Probate Court proceedings.
The Probate Court is responsible for supervising the administration of the estate of a decedent who was a legal resident in the county of his or her death. The purpose of Probate Court is to ensure that the decedent’s debts and taxes are paid, and assets are distributed to the people who are entitled to inherit.
If you do not name a beneficiary or co-owner on an asset and the asset must be transferred through Probate Court proceedings, it is important to have a Will so that you can direct where and to whom you want your estate to go to after your death. Wills are a clear expression of your wishes and help prevent disputes over the distribution of your assets.
If you prepare a Will, you should store your Will in a fireproof place. You can also deposit your original Will with Cuyahoga County Probate Court for $25.00. Depositing your Will with Probate Court ensures that it will be kept safe, away from public viewing, and out of danger of being lost or destroyed.
You can deposit your original Will with Cuyahoga County Probate Court at:
Cuyahoga County Probate Court
Clerk’s Office, Room 119
1 W. Lakeside Ave,
Cleveland, OH 44113
Probate Court Resources
If your loved ones need assistance during the probate process, Cuyahoga County Probate Court offers a Resource Center for self-represented parties. All parties are limited to one visit per case, and the purpose of this service is not to offer legal advice. The Resource Center is available to assist individuals with questions about a simple estate, guardianship or name change. This includes the general review of all Probate forms and procedures.
The Resource Center is staffed by a licensed attorney, and is open Monday through Thursday from 9:30 A.M. TO 3 P.M. To schedule an appointment please call (216) 443-8769, as the Center is currently unable to accommodate walk-in appearances.
It is important to be aware that complicated estates or guardianships, drafting a will, trusts, adoption proceedings or any contested matter cannot be handled by the Resource Center; a referral would be made to the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association to obtain the name of a probate attorney.
Lawyer Referral Service
If you are in need of an attorney but are unsure how to locate one, the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association offers a Lawyer Referral Service. This service helps assist individuals in finding an attorney to help with your legal needs. You can contact the Lawyer Referral Service by the Intake Specialist Mondays through Fridays from 9 am through 4 pm at 216-696-3532 or on their website at https://www.clemetrobar.org/?pg=clientReferrals.