Summit County Probate Judge Todd McKenney’s yearlong project to help county residents better understand court procedures and examine more than 238,000 residential deeds is moving on to the communities of New Franklin and Fairlawn.


Last month, the program began in the village of Reminderville.


The judge is looking for partnerships with communities and volunteers to examine residential deeds on file in Summit County and to notify homeowners who could benefit from creating a Joint and Survivorship Deed or another document called a Transfer on Death Affidavit (often called a TOD or a TOD deed).


The transfer allows a property to go from a single person or widow or widower to heirs. Both scenarios would transfer property without probate court involvement and save time and money for families, he said.


McKenney said these are recommended for people in a first marriage or those who are single with adult children and with a home as their largest asset. Single or divorced parents with minor children might not want to have a TOD to young children.


Previous stories with contact numbers about McKenney’s project as well as information about estate-planning can be found online at www.ohio.com/betty under “Probate project.”


The Reminderville effort resulted in about 650 letters sent out and about 90 people attending a meeting with McKenney.


“We answered questions and looked up deeds for about 1½ hours,” McKenney said. “It was interesting how many members of the audience answered their neighbors’ questions and shared their personal experiences, which only affirmed in an objective way what we were trying to do.


“The best advocates for the program end up being the people with current probate estates who say how much they wish they had done this before,” he said.


In New Franklin, there are 6,700 parcels of land. McKenney said it appears community leaders in New Franklin will send letters to a little more than one-third of the residential property owners, or 2,500 letters, to indicate that deeds could benefit from being updated.


McKenney said the turnout in Reminderville was the right size where he could still offer a personal touch. In larger places such as New Franklin, more than one public meeting could be scheduled to allow for better interaction. Details have not yet been set in New Franklin for meetings, he said.


Volunteers are also examining deeds in Fairlawn and are almost done, McKenney said.


He said he’s talked to five or six other mayors or trustees in the county and is lining up two to three other searches in March. Each community will probably require a two-month turnaround from start to finish.


McKenney said he has a good group of 20 volunteers who have committed to helping and he’s looking for more. Call 330-643-2330.


McKenney has also enlisted high school students at the Portage Lakes Career Center. He said he spent two days at the career center working with junior and senior computer classes and looked up 1,000 deeds.


“The high school students are great. They’ve got terminals and they’re used to being in front of a computer,” McKenney said.


Law firms have offered help, and McKenney said he will use them for more complicated deeds.


McKenney said he will use University of Akron law students as interns this summer to work at the courthouse on deeds for larger communities.


“We are strategically looking at all of Summit County. We have a map posted and are doing the smaller jurisdictions leading up to the summer,” he said.


McKenney said it is possible he might reach all communities in the county before the year’s end. He was appointed probate court judge last November and decided not to run for re-election to focus on this project and others.


He said the communities are paying to mail the letters to affected homeowners, and the judge might try to approach some groups to see if they will offset postage for some communities not willing to pay.


Summit County Assistant Fiscal Officer Dyann James said the office has been busy since the project launched with residents calling with questions about their deeds and written requests for deeds filed before March 1988 (which are not viewable online).


“The first week, we had an average of about 89 calls a day between me and the customer service area,” James said. “On Tuesday, the [written] requests started coming in and probably averaged 55 of those a day just for the first week. Since then, it has calmed down to maybe 10 to 12 calls a day and five requests.”


The Fiscal Office included sticky notes on deeds to let residents know whether the deed was or was not a survivorship filing.


James said about one-third of the people requesting their deeds are updating them.


“I’ve had a lot of children where one parent has been dead for years, yet the deed is still in both parents’ names. We’ve had at least 50 of those calls,” said James, who has referred them to probate court because the deeds were not in survivorship.


Mike Robinson, president of the Akron Bar Association, said the bar’s referral service, which agreed to a special flat fee of $100 plus a possible $28 recording fee, has paired 33 people with lawyers and has answered many calls.


Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blinfisher and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty