At the law firm of Ball Morse Lowe, PLLC, our estate planning and probate attorneys provide professional legal counsel and knowledgeable representation to individuals and families involved in the probate process. We represent executors and administrators, advising them on how to appropriately comply with their duties in regard to the deceased individual’s estate. Our law firm also represents heirs and beneficiaries who disagree with the executor's, administrator's or trustee's actions, alleging breach of fiduciary duty or other wrongdoing.
We assist clients in Oklahoma counties with:
From explaining the Oklahoma probate process to guiding clients through the paperwork and attending the court proceedings, we are here to remove the stress and uncertainty often associated with the probate process.
Probate is the judicial process of determining the ownership of assets after someone’s death. The probate proceeding is the legal process in which the deceased person’s estate is administered. Many people are under the impression that if someone has a will, their belongings will automatically be dispersed based on that.
However, it’s rarely that simple. If a deceased individual made a will, that will must be filed in district court if probate is required. In the event that no will was created, state law will determine how property is distributed. A probate helps determine the validity of the will, determine the heirs and repay the decedent’s creditors to the extent possible, using the assets of the decedent.
The probate process begins when a personal representative or other interested party files a will, if the decedent had one, as well as a petition for probate with the district court. Then, the court will schedule a hearing and notice must be given to all heirs and any beneficiaries listed in the will.
Probate is necessary to pass title to assets and finalize the decedent’s affairs. In order for a will to have any effect, it must be admitted to probate by the court. A probate allows a personal representative to pay the final bills, transfer title to real and personal property, and disburse assets. Other duties include:
Oklahoma law does not require that the personal representative hire an attorney. But retaining counsel is strongly recommended, as the probate statutes are complex and technical in nature. If the personal representative makes even small errors, title may not pass correctly or the process may have to start over, which can create many problems for the heirs and beneficiaries of the will.
The passing of a loved one is never an easy thing to go through and adding the workload and stress of probate to your own plate after such an event is not often wise unless you have legal training. The personal representative should also have a responsibility to do the right thing for the best interests of everyone involved, and failure to do so can result in legal liability.
In a perfect world, every probate would take between four and six months. However, there are so many factors involved that it sometimes takes much longer for everything to settle. Depending on the representative, the creditors, the court, and everyone else involved, the months can stretch out, as all parties have certain tasks they must all get done on time.
All estates are different and the circumstances of each one dictate how long everything will take, as well as how expensive it will be, and the level of expertise it will require to sort out the necessary documents and administer the estate. In Oklahoma, it may take six to 12 months to complete the probate process for a simple estate. Larger estates with property that may need to be sold may take even longer to go through the process. Ten days after an individual dies, a personal representative may be appointed to collect necessary information, and creditors will get up to two months to file claims against the estate.
There are potential ways to shorten the process and reduce costs, but these techniques are not available in every case, and you should contact your attorney before trying to implement any of them.
Before they die, most Oklahomans who write wills or develop estate plans for the disposal of assets and property to heirs may notice that Oklahoma's probate and estate law requires consideration of any debts they might leave behind. So, assuming a testator actually dies with some debt, how is it handled?
First, Oklahoma statutes require probate courts to pay all outstanding debts left by the decedent from assets that remain in the person's estate. The process typically begins with a special administrator who gathers all of the decedent's assets and properties on behalf of the executor named in the will. The executor then inventories all properties and assets, performs all necessary business transactions related to those properties -- for example, collecting or paying rents -- collects any outstanding debts still owed to the decedent and pays off whatever debts were owed others.
Second, in cases where decedents were owed money but the debtors cannot pay it off, executors can negotiate settlements as long as they meet the best interests of the estates.
Third, any real estate recovered from a debtor must be sold to pay off the decedent's debts. Fourth, the executor is allowed to administer any ongoing business the testator left behind as long as disposal of that business or enterprise is not required to pay off debts. This can give heirs time to figure out what they want to do with a business if they decedent left no clear instructions behind.
Fourth, the executor is allowed to administer any ongoing business the testator left behind as long as disposal of that business or enterprise is not required to pay off debts. This can give heirs time to figure out what they want to do with a business if they decedent left no clear instructions behind.
Some estates may be responsible for paying a state estate tax. In Oklahoma, those who died after Jan. 1, 2010 are exempt from Oklahoma estate tax while those who died prior to 2010 may have portions of their estate exempted from the taxes. On the federal level, the estate of a deceased person will be subject to the then-existing federal estate tax exemption. Court costs, estate administration fees and legal costs also need to be taken into account when going through the probate process.
If a deceased individual made a will, that will must be filed in district court if probate is required. In the event that no will was created, state law will determine how property is distributed. A surviving spouse will receive half of any remaining assets while the other half will be split equally among any surviving children. Certain properties, such as a retirement account or a life insurance policy, are generally not subject to the probate process.
The probate process is important for protecting all of the property left by the deceased individual. The court oversees the entire process to ensure that the personal representative of the estate distributes all of the assets according to the wishes of the deceased. If no will exists, the court will ensure that the estate is distributed to the deceased person's heirs according to Oklahoma law. The court also oversees debt payments, attorney payments and the payment of fees for the personal representative.
The court appoints the personal representative based on the will of the deceased, but if the deceased did not name a representative for the estate, the court normally appoints the closest living relative. The personal representative could also be a trust company or bank. This representative is responsible for identifying and collecting the estate's assets as well as collecting on all debts due to the estate. The representative must also locate all heirs and distribute all property to them after paying any outstanding debts and applicable taxes.
If the deceased owned any property in another state, the estate would need ancillary administration in that state to handle those assets. The probate process can take a long time to complete, but it ensures that all property and assets go to the rightful heirs and creditors. It also provides a way to transfer ownership of real estate and other property from the deceased to the heirs with a clear chain of title.
If you need the services of an experienced probate attorney familiar with the laws and rules of the Oklahoma probate process, contact us today. And if you’d like to read more about the probate process in Oklahoma, download our free guide!
The attorneys at Ball Morse Lowe have built a respected reputation over the decades for providing sophisticated counsel in complex oil, gas, and energy law matters, business law cases, transactions, estate planning, and family law matters. We take pride in assisting individuals and families with their legal concerns. Personable and responsive, our lawyers craft documents and develop strategies tailored to each client's unique goals and needs.
Ball Morse Lowe PLLC is committed to providing excellent service and sound solutions to our clients in a cost-effective manner. From our offices in Norman, Oklahoma City, Edmond, Stillwater, Frisco, and Denver, our attorneys provide services throughout the Oklahoma City, DFW, and Denver Metros and in other states, including Texas, North Dakota, Ohio, Colorado, California, Wyoming, and New Mexico.
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Ball Morse Lowe, PLLC offer exceptional knowledge in the oil and gas industry among many other things. I have worked with Senior Attorney, Chris Michael, multiple times and he continues to exceed expectations. If you are looking for a group of hard working, time efficient, diligent, and ethical attorneys, Ball Morse Lowe, PLLC and specifically Chris Michael would be a great choice.
I felt like I mattered. I felt like what I had to say was important. Glenn was thoughtful, encouraging and understanding. She helped me navigate the process and validated my thoughts about things I was not sure. Thank you Glenn!!! It was great working with you!
I turned to Ball Morse Lowe, PLCC when I needed my mother's estate probated in Oklahoma. It involved mineral rights and I live in California and my mother had not lived in OK for over 60 years. I wanted a firm that would do this correctly and be reasonable in cost. Jennifer Wright was a pleasure to work with. She and her staff were professional, knowledgeable, friendly and helpful. They made the experience of probate painless, explained things as we went along, and were clear in their expectation of what they would need from me to move the process forward. I am so glad I found them and appreciate deeply all they accomplished on my behalf.