The probate process is inescapable unless you have some other plan in place for transferring ownership of your property to others after you die, such as beneficiary designations or a living trust to hold your assets. Otherwise, probate is generally required if you die leaving a will or intestate -- without a will. Oklahoma’s rules are somewhat more intricate than those in other states in one respect – they include special provisions for surviving spouses.
Petition to Open Probate
Unlike some other states, Oklahoma does not have dedicated probate courts. The district court oversees estates here. Anyone who has the deceased’s will in his possession can present it to the district court in the county where the deceased lived by filing it with a petition asking the court to accept the will for probate. The court will schedule a hearing to admit the will if the judge determines it meets all requirements for validity. The judge then authorizes a personal representative to manage the estate through the probate process, usually the executor nominated by the deceased in his will. If there is no will, the court will appoint someone as administrator. A petition must be filed with the court to open an intestate estate_._
Duties of the Personal Representative
Most of the personal representative’s probate responsibilities are the same in Oklahoma as elsewhere. The Oklahoma Bar Association describes them in detail:
- Determine exactly what the deceased owned and prepare an inventory of his assets, including appraisals to set values, if necessary.
- Identify all of the deceased’s heirs, even those who are not beneficiaries under the terms of the will.
- Notify the deceased’s creditors of his death and inform them how to make claims to the estate for money owed. The judge decides whether the claims are legitimate and if they should be paid.
- Prepare tax returns that are due for the estate and the deceased’s last year of life, and pay any taxes due.
- Submit a final accounting to the court, detailing everything done toward settling the estate, and appear at a final hearing. The judge will approve the request to distribute the property of the estate to its beneficiaries if everything is in order.
Special Spousal Rights
Oklahoma law specifies that certain personal property, such as the deceased’s clothing, household goods and family photographs must go directly to his surviving spouse. They’re not considered part of his estate for probate purposes and aren’t available to pay the deceased’s taxes or creditors, according to Rainey Law in Oklahoma City. A spouse is entitled to a financial allowance decided by the court to provide support during the probate process and until distributions of property can be made. Additionally, if the marital home is in her spouse’s sole name, she has homestead rights – she can live there for the rest of her life, even if the deceased left the property to someone else in his will. His spouse can also elect against the will, meaning she can decline to accept its terms and instead, take half the deceased’s property acquired during the marriage if this amounts to more than she would get under the terms of the will.
Exceptions for Small Estates
Oklahoma offers two options for smaller estates. If the estate’s value is $20,000 or less after accounting for debts, taxes and liens, you can transfer property by affidavit after waiting 10 days from the date of death. You must sign a statement under penalty of perjury, stating that you’re entitled to the property. Then present the affidavit, along with a copy of the death certificate, to the person or entity holding the property, such as a bank, to take control of money in the deceased’s account.
Estates valued at $200,000 or less are eligible for a simplified probate process. File a written request with the court at the time you file the petition to open probate for this less complicated administration process.