Oklahoma Probate outline
1. You will meet with your attorney to deliver the facts necessary for your case. She will need to know whether there was a Will; who are the family members closest in legal relationship to the decedent; whether the decedent had deceased children who left children of their own; the full names, addresses, ages, and possibly the telephone numbers of all all the significant people involved; who will want to serve as Personal Representative (aka executor, and referred to below as the PR); and lots more. This meeting is likely to take an hour or two and you may leave with a list of further information needed.
2. The attorney will need to prepare the initial probate documents. Generally, this is likely to include a Petition for Probate, an Order for Hearing, a Notice of Hearing, an affidavit of mailing, Letters of heirship, and possibly several more documents. This work may take several days or longer depending on the attorney's workload and staff.
3. The person who will serve as Personal Representative will return to the law office to read, approve and sign the documents for your case.
4. The attorney will then file your case and pay the initial court costs and request a court date. Often the first hearing will be 20-30 days after the petition is filed depending on the Judge's workload, holidays, trials, and the like.
5. Notice of this first hearing will be mailed to the people entitled to know about the probate. These include the people named in the will as well as the heirs at law. Often, but not always, this notice will also be published in the legal publications section of a local paper.
6. At the first hearing, the heirs, beneficiaries, and others who are interested in the estate may appear and object to the Petition. But often no one appears and the Petition is granted. Depending upon the judge, live testimony may be given or the testimony may have been previously prepared and filed in the case by the attorney. The court may give the Personal Representative the oath of office if he has not already signed the oath before a Notary.
7. Once a Personal Representative is appointed, he will have the authority to redirect the mail so that he can watch for indications of debts and assets. The Personal Representative has a legal duty to perform a good faith search for creditors, as all known creditors, and those creditors whose identities can be determined by a reasonable search are entitled to receive a written notice of their opportunity to file a claim against the estate.
8. The Personal Representative will need to find the assets belonging to the probate estate. She will need to create a list of assets (the inventory) and give the value of the items there (the appraisement). The attorney will put the fist into a formal pleading and file it with the court clerk.
9. As soon as reasonably possible, the PR should deliver the list of creditors to the attorney so that the Notice to Creditors can be prepared, notices mailed and published as required by the law. This publication has to run at least two months. Many attorneys suggest that the time allowed to creditors be a few days more than two months to assure that there is no chance of the time being found to be too short. The notice to creditors and the shortened time to make claims is one of the real advantages of probate, and the PR should be careful to share all known information concerning the debts or potential debts of the estate.
10. If the estate owns personal property that should or must be sold, that can be accomplished during the probate, but such a sale may require further court involvement. There is, however, a list of personal property that may be sold without court involvement. Be careful to let your attorney know what you are needing to do so that he can keep you safe from personal liability.
11. If the estate owns real property (real estate) that must or should be sold, that will always require additional court action and hearing(s). Do not attempt to sell land during the probate without keeping your attorney up to date and following her advice.
12. As claims from creditors come in the PR will be called on to approve or deny the claims and the Judge will be asked to approve the claims that are approved by the PR. If a creditor's claim is denied, it will have the opportunity to file suit on its claim and may recover for the attorney fees so incurred if the Judge eventually approves that claim.
13. Whe all claims have been handled (or ignored on advice of your attorney), when the property has been found and sold (to the extent necessary and desired), and when the business affairs of the estate are ready to be completed, a Final Account will be prepared and filed with the Court. That report must be in the court file for at least 20 days before it can be approved.
14. The Final Account and the Notice of Hearing on the Final Account should be mailed to the heirs at law and beneficiaries of the estate. The Notice of Hearing should also be published according to the statutes.
15. At the hearing on the Final Account, objections may be received, and the matter may be set for trial. Often, however, there are no objections and the court will approve distribution of the estate.
16. The heirs/beneficiaries of the estate will be given their portion and will sign a receipt. When the receipts all come in, they will be filed in the court record and the PR will be relieved of further responsibility.
Please note that I have written a Handbook for Personal Representatives. This book elaborates on this outline and it is available at our office, at the Oklahoma County Law Library, and by mail.
Legal Articles Additional Disclaimer