A person can acquire a significant amount of money and property during his lifetime. These assets are collectively called an estate. When the owner dies, his heirs may be eligible to inherit from that estate. Title 84 of the Oklahoma Statutes sets forth the procedure for inheritance transfers, either from a will, by intestate succession (when the owner died without leaving a valid will), or automatically by right.
Transfers Upon Death
Certain property cannot be inherited by will or intestate succession. This is because the property already has a beneficiary designated and that beneficiary will inherit the property upon the death of the property owner. For example, any assets placed in trust and any bank accounts designated as "payable on death" or "transfer on death" will be transferred to the named beneficiary. Additionally, any property the decedent owned as a joint tenant with at least one other person automatically passes to the surviving joint owners in equal shares by "right of survivorship."
Oklahoma law provides that any competent person 18 years or older can make a valid will. The will must be in writing and signed by the testator, the person who makes the will. A testator must make the will voluntarily, free from any undue influence. In order to make sure the requirements are met, a will must be signed by two impartial witnesses who attest to the testator's identity, age and mental competence.
Spousal Right of Election
Under Oklahoma law, surviving spouses cannot be disinherited. A spouse must receive a bequest in the will that is more than or equal to what she would receive through intestate succession. If a decedent did not bequeath an appropriate percentage of the estate to the surviving spouse, the spouse is entitled to seek an "elective share." The spouse must file a petition for the right of election before the hearing for final administration of the estate is set. The court will then award the elective share of one-half of the decedent's estate.
When a person dies without a valid will, his estate is transferred to beneficiaries in accordance with Oklahoma's intestacy laws. According to these laws, a surviving spouse is the first eligible beneficiary. The spouse will inherit the entire estate if the decedent is not survived by children, parents or siblings. If there are children and the children are also the surviving spouse's, the surviving spouse will inherit one-half of the estate and the children inherit equal shares of the other half. Children inherit equal shares of an entire estate when there is no surviving spouse. If there are also no children or parents, the decedent's siblings are eligible to inherit.
Bernadette A. Safrath is an attorney who has been writing professionally since 2008. Safrath was published in Touro Law Center's law review and now writes legal articles for various websites. Safrath has a Bachelor of Arts in music from Long Island University at C.W. Post, as well as a Juris Doctor from Touro College.