Probate can be an intimidating process, particularly if it is the first time you have had to be involved in the process. However, probate is a required process that most estates must go through to ensure that the estate of a decedent is settled and its assets passed to the decedent’s family and other beneficiaries in an orderly fashion. The rules that govern the process are found in the Oklahoma Probate Procedure. 58 OK Stat § 58-1 et seq. In Oklahoma, the process typically takes about 9 months. However, if the estate is small, there are options that allow for quicker distribution of assets.
The probate process begins with the filing for the will and a petition for probate. In Oklahoma the district court is the probate court and is responsible for matters related to probate and estates of decedents and there is a District Court in county. The case must be initiated in the District Court in the county in which the decedent lived at the time of their death. Once the judge admits the will to probate and appoints the personal representative, also referred to as the executor, to manage the day-to-day activities to manage the estate. Their main steps that the personal representative must take in the estate administration process include:
- Collect and manage property. Once the court gives the personal representative control of the estate, it is the personal representative’s responsibility to protect the estate assets to help ensure that their value does not diminish.
- Pay the estate’s debts and taxes. In order to receive payment from the estate, creditors must submit detailed claims by the date describe in the notice to creditors.
- Distribute estate assets. After bills are paid and other financial obligations are addressed, the personal representative must distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries as directed in the will.
Problems During Probate
If disputes arise between the personal representative and beneficiaries, between the executor and claimants, between beneficiaries, or between any other parties to the proceeding, the disagreements may need to be settled in court. One common reason for probate litigation includes disagreements over whether the will is actually valid. This type of probate litigation is called a will contest. Other commons reasons for probate disputes include dissatisfaction over how the personal representative has performed their duties and responsibilities, denied creditor claims, and arguments over how to construe terms of the will.
Absence of a Will
If your loved one was intestate, their estate must still go through the administration process managed by a court appointed personal representative. They will then manage the estate and eventually distribute assets to the decedent’s heirs based on Oklahoma’s laws of intestate succession. 84 OK Stat § 84-213 The law gives details as to who is in line to receive the decedent’s property.
While intestacy is not uncommon, what is less common are intestate cases where relatives are not known or are difficult to find. If someone comes forward to claim the estate who is not a “long lost relative,” the court may require the person to prove right to inherit through a kinship hearing.
Alternatives to Formal Administration
Formal administration procedures take quite a long time, are complicated, and can be expensive. When the estate is small, there are options to allow for a simpler process or even asset distribution without probate.
Petition for Summary Administration
This special petition allows for an expedited administration process. To be eligible to take advantage of this process, the estate must meet on of the following conditions:
- Estate must have no more than $200,000.00 in assets
- The decedent must have been deceased for more than 5 years
- The decedent resided in another jurisdiction other than Oklahoma at the time of death
- Expenses must have been resolved.
58 Okla. Stat. Ann § 58-245.
Delivery of property by successor affidavit. Oklahoma has a provision that allows anyone with a claim to estate property to avoid formal administration altogether if the estate is worth no more than $20,000. This process allows someone who has a claim to execute an affidavit detailing their claim. When presented with that affidavit, the person or institution holding the property must transfer it to the affiant. 58 Okla. Stat. Ann § 58-393.