You might think the scariest phrase ever is, “You have coronavirus.” While that certainly would be in the top 10 bad things to hear, there is one that tops even that. It is “You have to go to probate.” Probate was invented by someone who was in love — deeply in love — with paperwork. I had heard horror stories before from a friend of mine who was going through the process. But just like a compound fracture or an IRS audit, you have no idea just how painful it is until it happens to you.
Here is a little journalistic humor for those of you who have never been to law school: I thought I could do this myself. Yes, I thought I could go to my friendly neighborhood probate court (and the people there were actually very friendly), fill out the forms, and breeze through the whole procedure. Instead, I found myself consumed whole and now am stuck somewhere unpleasant in the alimentary canal of bureaucracy.
My first clue that things were not going to go smoothly occurred quickly, and by quickly I mean about two seconds after picking up the mound of forms required. It costs over $200 just to file those forms. And, God forbid you have to file form 13.7 (waiver of notice of hearing on account) (RC 2109.33) because it costs an additional dollar for each waiver, if filed. That one sentence pretty much sums up the task at hand for anyone dipping a toe into the boundless ocean of probate. (I realize I am mixing my metaphors here but one metaphor simply isn’t enough to do the job.) I don’t think I am giving away any state secrets by sharing some of the jargon that filled page after page and that was just the directions. For example, form 8.5 is the Return for Certificate of Service of Citation to Surviving Spouse to Exercise Elective Rights (RC 1206.02). I have no idea what those numbers behind the form descriptor are but you can bet your bottom dollar (assuming you haven’t spent it on a waiver for form 13.7), that it is vital to a clear understanding of all this. Form 12.0 carries the riveting title of Application for Certificate of Transfer/Entry Issuing Certificate of Transfer (RC 2113.61) and it has about seven sub-sections dealing with minutiae such as what to do if the decedent lived in an unincorporated area. Form 7.1 is the Application for Family Allowance (RC 2106.13) and it’s a tricky one. Do not use this form if there are minor children of the decedent who are not the children of the surviving spouse or if there is no surviving spouse and more than one minor child. In that case you must use form 7.2 Application for Apportionment of Family Allowance. (RC 2106.13 (B)(3) and (4). But before you can do any of this, before you can fill in a single line on any form (printed in ink or typewritten) you must acquire a letter from the special counsel to the Ohio Attorney General attesting to the fact the deceased was not on welfare. The letter, amazingly, is free. I am not making any of this up.
About one month after all this began, while I was waiting for the letter from the special counsel who, I can tell you, works at his own pace, my right shoulder finally said, “I quit” and I had total joint replacement surgery. I couldn’t cut up a potato much less fill out dozens of forms so I cried “uncle” and called a lawyer. The first lawyer I called said he didn’t do probate. At the time I thought that was odd. Having been immersed in this mess for over eight months, I now think he might be the smartest person I ever met.
A friend of mine then recommended a friend of hers, and that seemed like a better solution than scanning aimlessly through the Yellow Pages. My lawyer is very kind and very patient and, best of all, she knew how to file all these forms. She needs all that patience because I call her about every other day asking if “we” have received the necessary paperwork from the probate court yet. She has what I think is a little recording that replies, “No but I expect it any day now.” She’d been using that little recording for at least two weeks and sure enough, the required forms arrived. These are the penultimate forms, not the end game, so we’re still in something of a holding pattern.
So “any day now” I can begin to wrap this up. In the meantime, I’m practicing writing checks … what I think will be big checks. Some to my lawyer and some to the insurance company that has a bond on me and some to the court. They probably need that money to print more forms.
Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for Miami Valley Today.