Oklahoma Probate Process Can be Cumbersome and Expensive

When a loved one passes away the last thing you want to worry about is probating their estate. Unfortunately, this is a necessary evil, and must occur in almost all cases. Depending on the value of your loved one’s estate, the Oklahoma probate process can be relatively quick and painless, at least by Oklahoma standards.

The normal Oklahoma probate process is one of the more cumbersome in the United States, and usually takes six (6) months at a minimum to complete. The longer this time period, the longer beneficiaries under a will or statutory intestacy scheme have to wait to get the proceeds of the estate.

Summary Administration Proceedings for Small Estates

In an effort to combat this problem, Oklahoma passed a Summary Probate Act about thirteen (13) years ago, which created a “summary administration” procedure for small estates (estates comprising of $175,000 or less).

Oklahoma’s goal was to reduce the time and expense associated with probating estates. The act contains three (3) sections, and can be found at Okla. Stat. tit. 58, §§ 245, 246, and 247.

Requirements for an Estate to Fall Under Summary Administration

In probate cases using the summary administration proceedings, you can file a probate and get a final decree in about 60 days, but only if the estate meets one of the following three conditions:

  1. Value of the estate is $175,000 or less;
  2. Decedent has been dead for at least five years; or
  3. Decedent lived in another state at the time of death, but owns property in Oklahoma.

Petition for Summary Administration

Okla. Stat. tit. 58 § 245(A) provides that a “Petition for Summary Administration” may be filed by any person interested in a decedent’s estate (who will be known as a “petitioner) if it meets one of the requirements listed in the preceding section. In order to qualify for summary administration, the “Petition for Summary Administration” must meet the requirements listed below.

Okla. Stat. tit. 58, § 245(B) lists certain elements which must be contained in a “Petition for Summary Administration.” These are:

  1. A statement of the petitioner’s interest in the estate (i.e., petitioner will inherit, petitioner is named executor of decedent’s will, etc.).
  2. The decedent’s name, age, and date of death; and the county and state of decedent’s domicile (basically permanent residence) at the time of decedent’s death.
  3. If the decedent died leaving a valid will, an original or certified copy of the will must be attached to the Petition for Summary Administration; and there must be a statement that: (1) To the best of the petitioner’s knowledge, the petitioner believes the will to have been validly executed; and (2) after the exercise of due diligence, the petitioner has no knowledge of any document which revokes the decedent’s well, and the petitioner believes the attached will to be the decedent’s last will.
  4. A statement on whether the decedent’s will has been admitted to probate in any other jurisdiction (i.e., other state, country, etc.).
  5. If the decedent died without a will, the petitioner must state the petitioner diligently searched for a will, but failed to find one.
  6. There must be a list of the names, ages, and last-known addresses of the administrators, executors, nonpetitioning conominees, heirs, legatees, and devisees of the decedent, to the extent these are known by the petitioner.
  7. There must be a list of all the names and last-known addresses for known creditors of the decedent. Furthermore, the petitioner must state the petitioner used due diligence in determining the identieis, last-known addresses, and claims of these creditors.
  8. The petitioner must provide the probable value (estimation) and character (i.e., real property, personal property, etc.) of the property included in the decedent’s estate. If there is real property, the petition must provide the legal description for such real property.
  9. There must be a statement informing the Court whether there has been an application or petition for the appointment of a personal representative which is pending or has been granted in another jurisdiction (i.e., state, country, etc.).
  10. There must be a statement of the relief requested by the petitioner.

The petition must also either be verified by the petitioner, which usually means a notarized statement that the petitioner knows the contents of the petition, and swears these facts are true to his or her belief; or signed by the petitioner’s attorney.

Once the Petition for Summary Administration is filed, the Court must dispense with the regular estate proceedings prescribed by law (usual probate procedure); and the Court must order notice to creditors. Okla. Stat. tit. § 246(A). The Court must also issue an order for a hearing to be held on the Petition for Admission of the Will (if applicable) to Probate, the Petition for Summary Administration, the final accounting, and the Petition for Determination of Heirship, distribution, and discharge. Id.

For the sake of brevity, the Petition for Summary Administration is often combined with the Petition for Appointment of Special Administrator and Petition for Admission of Will to Probate.

Letters of Special Administration

In the usual probate proceeding, the Court will have to hold a hearing to appoint an individual the personal representative of a decedent’s estate. In a summary administration, this first hearing is done away with.

Okla. Stat. tit. 58, § 245(D) now requires the Court to appoint a ”special administrator” when the petition is filed, without holding a hearing.

To be appointed special administrator:

  1. The special administrator must be named the personal representative in the decedent’s will or have a prior right of appointment;
  2. The petition must be accompanied by waivers by all persons who would otherwise be entitled to being appointed the personal representative.

Special administrators have the powers outlined in Okla. Stat. tit. 58, § 215(A). Overall, special administrators have the same power as a personal representative in a usual probate proceeding.

In appointing the petitioner the special administrator, the Court will sign “Letters of Special Administration” which are usually combined with an “Oath” signed by the petitioner. By signing the “Oath” the petitioner swears to perform the duties of special administrator in the decedent’s estate according to the law.

Combined Notice to Creditors and Parties Interested in Decedent’s Estate

When a Petition for Summary Administration is filed, the Court is required to dispense with the regular estate proceedings prescribed by law (usual probate procedure), and order notice to creditors. Okla. Stat. tit. 58 § 246(A). The notice the Court must order is known as a “combined notice.” The “combined notice” informs the recipient about the hearing which will be held by the Court on the Petition for Summary Administration, Petition for Admission of the Will to Probate (if applicable), the final accounting, and the Petition for Determination of Heirship, Distribution, and Discharge. Okla. Stat. tit. 58, § 246(B). This “combined notice” must be sent to both creditors and all persons interested in the decedent’s estate. Id.

Time Periods for Publication and Mailing of Combined Notices

The combined notice must be published in a newspaper authorized by law to publish legal notices, and which is published in the county where the Petition is filed. Okla. Stat. tit. 58, § 246(B). The combined notice must be published one each week for two (2) consecutive weeks in this newspaper. The first date of publication must be no less than forty-five (45) days out from the hearing date. Okla. Stat. tit. 58, § 246(D).

The combined notice must be mailed to all of the decedent’s known creditors, and to all known parties who have an interest in the decedent’s estate. Okla. Stat. tit., § 246(B). The combined notice must inform the recipient of a day by which the final account and petition for distribution will be filed. Id. The date the final account will be filed must be at least five (5) days after the presentment date (which is usually 30 days after the combined notice is filed with the Court), and must be no closer than twenty (20) days before the hearing to be held by the Court. Id.

Combined Notice Requirements

Under Okla. Stat. tit. 58, § 246(C) this “combined notice” must include the following:

  1. The name, address, and date of death for the decedent.
  2. The name and address of the petitioner.
  3. The total value of the decedent’s estate as set out in the Petition for Summary Administration.
  4. The time and place the hearing will be held.
  5. A statement informing the recipient that any objections to the Petition for Summary Administration must file objections at least ten (10) days before the hearing will be held, and that a copy of the filed objection must be sent to the petitioner, or the recipient will be deemed to have forever waived any objections to the petition.
  6. A statement that in the event an objection is filed at least ten (10) days before the hearing, at the hearing the Court will determine the Petition will be admitted to probate, whether Summary Administration proceedings are appropriate, and if so, whether the estate will be distributed and to whom it will be distributed.
  7. A statement that any creditor’s claim which was not shown in the Petition for Summary Administration (as a known creditor) will be barred, unless the claim is presented to the Petitioner on or before a known date, which must be at least thirty (30) days after the combined notice is filed with the Court.

The Hearing May be Postponed by the Court for Good Cause

The hearing must not be set for a date which is less than forty-five (45) days following the first publication of notice to creditors, or the combined notice. Okla. Stat. tit. 58, § 246(D). In the event there is a problem with the notice, the form of the Petition, objections are filed, or for some other reason which the Court deems good cause, the Court may postpone the hearing to a new date. Id.

The Final Hearing

The final hearing is when the Court will listen to and rule on any timely filed objections. Okla. Stat. tit. 58, § 247(A).

This is also the time when the Court will make a finding whether the Summary Administration proceedings are proper for the decedent’s estate. If the Court makes this finding, it may issue an order:

  1. Approving the Petition for Summary Administration;
  2. finding the will has been proved as required by the law;
  3. admitting the will which was attached to the Petition for Admission of Will to Probate;
  4. allowing the final accounting;
  5. determining heirship and the decedent’s legatees and devisees (if applicable);
  6. distributing the decedent’s estate’s property; and
  7. discharging the special administrator from his or her duties. Okla. Stat. tit. 58, § 247(A).

If the Court issues such an order at the hearing, it will have the same legal force and effect as a final decree/order in a usual probate proceeding. Okla. Stat. tit. 58, § 247(B). A certified copy of this order must be filed and recorded in the records of the county clerk for the county where the decedent had any right, title, or interest in real property is located. Id.

Is Summary Administration a Good Idea for My Loved One’s Small Estate?

You may be wondering if the summary administration proceedings are a good fit for your loved one’s small estate. There are some benefits and detriments you should take into account when making the decision.

Benefits

Much Quicker Process than Usual Probate Proceedings

The whole process can take slightly less than 60 days, but only if all the timeline requirements are met. This is much quicker than the usual minimum of six (6) months a usual probate proceeding will take.

The Special Administrator and Their Attorney Will Only Have to Go to One Hearing

Under normal probate proceedings, there will be at least two hearings, a hearing to admit the will to probate and appoint the personal representative, and a hearing on the final account. However, there is only one hearing in the summary administration proceedings. The initial hearing to admit the will to probate and appoint the personal representative is done away with. Admission of the will to probate is delayed until the final hearing. A special administrator and his or her attorney will only need to appear in court for a hearing once, at the final hearing.

Attorney’s Fees Will Usually Be Lower

Because the summary administration process requires one less hearing, and less documents to be filed, the attorney’s fee for the process will be somewhat cheaper than for normal probate. There will still be costs for sending notice to creditors, publishing notice in a newspaper, and for filing fees though.

Detriments

Short Deadlines May Work Against You

While the quickened process can be a great positive, it can also be a negative if you feel you might have trouble meeting the required deadlines. If all the required timelines aren’t met, the hearing will be postponed by the Court to a later date, which may or may not be faster than a usual probate proceeding.

Overall, it will be best to talk with an Oklahoma Probate attorney about your specific case before coming to a decision on how to handle your loved one’s small estate. Download our probate questionnaire and fill it out to help you begin to organize the estate of your loved one.

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