Many people are not concerned with doing estate planning because they think it is only for wealthy people. They think that because they have fewer assets the probate process after their death will be relatively straightforward, and that is not necessarily the case. There are earlier blog posts that address the “Small Estate Affidavit” for estates valued at less than $50,000, but if you do not fall within that exception, the probate process can be very complicated in even the most straightforward of circumstances. Further, probate happens even if the deceased had a will. Here is a brief overview of what the probate process looks like in Oklahoma after an a initial intake meeting with an attorney:
1. A petition to probate the estate is filed with the court and a court date is set. Notice is given to all heirs, and beneficiaries (if there is a Will).
2. Thirty (30) days after the filing, the first hearing is held before the county district judge. If a will exists, the judge will determine whether it is valid. If it is, the judge will approve it and the distribution pattern of the assets within it. If the will is not valid or if there is no will, the judge will determine who the heirs of the estate are and distribution will be based on state intestacy statutes. The judge will also appoint a Personal Representative (PR) to act on behalf of the estate until the probate process is complete.
3. After the first court hearing, a notice will be filed in the local newspaper that alerts any creditors to the deceased’s passing, and gives the creditors sixty (60) days to notify the estate of any outstanding debts that are owed so the personal representative can pay the claims. During this period, the personal representative will also be given access to the deceased’s financial records and must take a full inventory of the assets and file the inventory with the court.
4. After the sixty (60) day window has closed and all creditor claims settled, a final account of the estate can be filed with the court. The final account does not need to be filed sixty (60) days after, it can sometimes take months and years to get to the point at which a final account is filed.
5. Thirty (30) days or so after the final account has been filed, there will be a hearing where the judge approves the distribution of assets and lets the personal representative start making such distributions. After everything has been distributed, the probate can be closed.
The timeline can vary depending on which county the court is in, and the specific circumstances around the probate, but generally probate is a 5+ month process (and it can be years in some cases if creditor claims are not resolved, etc.).As can be seen, it is a complex process involving a lawyer that typically costs more than doing Estate Planning while someone is alive. Not only that, but it can be a very lengthy process, adding stress to a family already grieving the loss of a loved one.
If you think you and your family can benefit from a comprehensive estate plan, give us a call or click on the “Contact” link above and our attorney would be happy to assist you.