Oklahoma Probate Timeline

Probates, like other lawsuits, can vary significantly.  Given that caveat, below is a somewhat representative list of common tasks that can give you a guide concerning the likely schedule.

    • It can take a couple days to a week to get an appointment with a well-qualified attorney.  The attorney is likely to need you to gather some documents, names, addresses, and give a rough idea of the assets belonging to the estate.  I would suggest that you allow a couple weeks to get started on your case unless there is a real need for quick action (which is likely to cost a little more).
    • Once you have your initial documents and your attorney intake is complete, your attorney is going to need a few business days to draft your initial pleadings.  You should proofread those carefully, advise of any changes or corrections and assure that you and your attorney have communicated clearly.  Your attorney is likely to ask you to sign the petition before a notary public.  Be very certain to ask questions if you do not clearly understand what has been prepared for your signature and verification.  You never want to be in the position of having to explain why you signed a court document that contained known or knowable mis-statements of fact.
    • Once your Probate Petition is filed with the Court Clerk, your attorney will coordinate a hearing date with the Judge’s clerk.  That hearing must be at least 10 days away and is usually 20 to 30 days later in the larger counties where the dockets are more crowded.
    • Notice of this first hearing must be mailed to all heirs and beneficiaries, even if they are not going to inherit.  If the accurate address of any heir or beneficiary is not known, the Notice of Hearing must be published according to law.  Many experienced attorneys publish every such notice to avoid the cost of doing it all again if a mailed envelope is returned.
    • At the first hearing, the Judge will receive testimony, often by accepting the verified petition as that testimony if there is no objection to the petition.  If anyone appears and objects, it is likely, almost certain, that the Judge will set the matter for a later trial date.  If there is no objection, the judge is likely to enter an order appointing a personal representative of the estate and sign the Letters of Personal Representative.
    • The Personal Representative has authority to control the estate within the very important limits imposed by the probate law of the state.  The Personal Representative will be tasked with gathering the assets of the estate, creating and filing an inventory of the estate, and appraising the property belonging to the estate.  In some circumstances, it is possible and reasonable to waive the inventory and appraisement.
    • The Personal Representative (with the help of their attorney) must sign, mail, and publish a Notice to Creditors.  The Creditors of the decedent must have at least two months to file their claims and the Notice must state the deadline for those claims.  The Supreme Court of the United States has decided that a Notice that does not contain the deadline is insufficient and is a violation of the creditor’s right to due process of law.  As a practical matter, I always allow more than 60 days to assure that I do not arrive at the end of the case to learn that the creditors were somehow shorted a day, and then we have to begin again.
    • If the estate must sell real estate to pay the bills, or if the heirs want the property sold, a Petition to Sell may be filed with the Court, set for hearing, notice mailed and published according to statute, and the Judge will decide whether the property may be sold.  The sale can be a private sale (listed with an agent, for example) or the property may be auctioned at a public sale.  Generally, the highest and best value will be realized from a private sale. Elsewhere on my site is a flowchart for the sale of land during probate.
    • Once a buyer for the real estate is found for a price that meets the statutory minimum, the attorney will prepare a Return of Sale advising the court and the heirs of the terms of the contract.  That matter will be set for hearing, the heirs will have an opportunity to object, and the Court will decide whether the contract will be approved and the land sale closed.  If the buyer fails to close the sale after this Order, she may be subject to liability for the estate losses.
    • Leasing of minerals follows a process similar to the sale of land.  You will file a Petition asking the court to approve the leasing of minerals.  That petition should list the important financial details sufficient to allow an interested heir to determine whether they should object to the proposed lease.  The minimum details required in the petition may be found in Title 58 of the Oklahoma Statutes.  That petition must be set for hearing, notice sent to the heirs and published according to law.  If no one objects to the petition to lease the minerals, the court is likely to approve the lease and sign the proposed order at the first hearing.
    • The Personal Representative is charged with preparing an inventory and appraisement of the estate.  This inventory is a list of all assets belonging to the estate with the Personal Representative’s best estimate of value.  There will be situations when it is necessary for the personal representative to pay for expert valuations, but often his or her best estimate will be sufficient.  Ask your attorney whether it will be necessary to hire appraisers.  Remember there is a deadline to prepare this report, so begin this task right away after the Judge appoints you as the personal representative.  If you have difficulty in finding and valuing all of the assets, begin with a preliminary inventory and appraisal, then supplement that report when you receive more information.
    • Notice to Creditors: one of the most valuable advantages of an Oklahoma probate proceeding is the ability to drastically reduce the length of time that creditors have to make their claims on the assets of the decedent.  When properly done, the Notice to Creditors can reduce the statute of limitations (the time when creditors may sue on their claim) from 5 years down to 60 days.  This is a terrific advantage to the heirs.  It is very important to most heirs that the money they receive not later be reclaimed by a creditor of the deceased person, and this can be the outcome they receive when you properly notice all of the creditors that you can find and publish to those who could not be located or known.  To accomplish this task successfully, you must make a good faith search for creditors.  Have the mail forwarded to your address and watch for bills.  Read the decedent’s bank statements and watch for ongoing payments to a possible creditor.  Look through the decedent’s business files watching for invoices/bills. Carefully list all creditors that you can find, along with their addresses.  Remember that under Oklahoma case law, the hospital where the decedent died is presumed to be a creditor and notice must be mailed there.  That case law would likely be construed to mean that the decedent’s physician and other medical care providers should be listed as well, even if they have not sent an invoice that has come to your attention.  Remember to list the mortgage company, the lienholder on the car, the cellular phone provider (if there may be a service contract), and anyone else who might claim that the decedent owed them money.  Your attorney must mail notice to all of these and must publish notice as there may be unknown creditors.
    • During the time that the Notice to Creditors is running, you will have a couple tasks to accomplish.  This may be a good time to have an estate sale or have a family meeting to determine how the personal property of the estate will be distributed.  In most situations, the court is likely to approve a family settlement agreement that appears to be fair and not coerced.  The Court will not, however, appreciate a settlement that takes advantage of some family members unless there is a good reason to believe that the settlement was made in good faith, with independant advice of counsel, and not under duress.  If there is a disagreement as to the manner that the personal property will be distributed, it is likely that the Court will order the property sold and the sale proceeds paid into the estate.  The heirs may, of course, bid in such a sale.
    • As Claims come in from creditors the Personal Representative (formerly known as the executor) will be tasked with reviewing each claim to determine its validity and either approving the claim or denying it.  Claims may be approved in part, may be denied outright, or approved in whole.  If the claim is denied at all, notice of that denial should be mailed to the claimant right away so that their time to bring a lawsuit on their claim will begin to run.  In past years the probate attorney might advise that the client not act on a claim so that the attorney could assert that the claim was denied by operation of law and that the creditor’s failure to notice the denial and bring suit was the fault of the creditor, and with any luck the claim would not have to be paid.  The Oklahoma legislature apparently took note and decided that claim avoidance by inaction was not the method they preferred, and so the law has been changed.
    • A couple notes concerning creditor claims for medical care: first, the hospital where the patient passed away is presumed to be a creditor and notice must be mailed to that facility; second, medical care provided to the decedent for his or her last illness is a high priority debt and must be paid in full before lower priority debts are paid; third, Oklahoma statutes contain a law making the spouse liable for necessary care (“Husband and wife shall be jointly and severally liable for debts incurred on account of necessaries furnished to either spouse…”).  That means that there are likely to be cases where the surviving spouse will be sued by the medical care provider on the debt, even though that spouse did not sign an agreement to be personally responsible for the bill.
    • The costs of the funeral and burial have a special place in probate law.  This expense should be paid as soon as the personal representative has the money on hand with which he can pay that bill.  No court order of judicial approval is required.  This is likely the case because the legislature believes that it is urgent that the estate pay that particular expense.  Burial (or cremation) is, after all, a matter of public health and welfare.
    • The sale of personal property (cars, household goods, tractors, etc.) can be accomplished during a probate proceeding.  If all the heirs are in agreement, such a sale can occur quickly and cheaply.  If any heir is not available to agree, or if any heir disagrees, the sale proceedings for personal property are about the same as the sale of real estate (see above).  The costs of going through a contested sale of personal property may actually exceed the income created by that sale, so agreement should be sought whenever reasonably possible.
    • When the Personal Representative has gathered all of the assets, has paid the bills that were approved, has sold the items that should or must be sold, and is ready to distribute the estate, the attorney and the personal representative will work together to prepare the Final Account and Petition to Distribute.  That document should list all of the income and expenses of the probate estate, describe what is left to distribute to the heirs, and proposed a distribution.  That document must be filed with the Court Clerk and must be on file for at least 20 days before the Judge has authority to approve that report and request.  The attorney will prepare an Order for Hearing and a Notice of Hearing and will have the hearing set. The Notice of Hearing must be mailed according to statute and published.  If all is done correctly, and if there are no objections, the Judge can be expected to approve the Final Account and order a distribution of the estate.  If there are any objections, the Judge is likely to reset the hearing to a later date so that witnesses and evidence may be provided to the court.

  • Once the Distribution has been ordered, the Personal Representative or their attorney should prepare checks and receipts for the heirs/beneficiaries.  The signed receipts should be filed into the court file to prove that the Personal Representative has distributed the money according to the Order.  If the beneficiaries fail or are unable to complete the receipts, a copy of the canceled check is sometimes used to show that the payment was completed.
  • When real estate is distributed by the Order of Distribution, that Order should be filed with the County Clerk in every county where the decedent owned real estate.
  • Once the distribution has been completed the Attorney may present the receipts to the Judge and receive an Order releasing the Personal Representative.  This step is crucial when the Personal Representative is bonded, as the fees for the bond are due every year until the case is closed.
  • The above tasks are not always completed, are not the only tasks that the personal representative may have to undertake, but this is a good general guideline that is not specifically tailored to your case.
  • Remember that our office is available to advise attorneys and personal representatives on probate and estate administration matters.  Please call us at 405-733-8686 for an appointment.

Need a Cheap Web Design?