When someone passes away, their affairs must be cared for. Estate administration is the legal process of settling the decedent’s unfinished business. It is also referred to as probate. In Oklahoma, the District Court in the county in which the decedent was a resident at the time of their death has jurisdiction over their estate matters. 58 OK Stat § 585. The two main purposes of the probate process are to make sure that a decedent’s property is legally transferred to the appropriate people or entities and to make sure that the decedent’s debts are paid.
While the District Court serves as the probate court in Oklahoma and has jurisdiction over the estate administration process, the personal representative is responsible for caring for the day-to-day activities of estate administration. If the decedent was testate, the personal representative is typically the person the decedent nominated in the will. Otherwise, the person is typically the spouse, adult child, or other family member. Note that the personal representative does not have to be one individual. More than one person can be appointed, and the role can be filled by a corporation. Before the personal representative can move forward with managing the decedent’s estate, they must first petition the court and the court must approve their petition.
Estate Administration Process
- Locate estate property. The personal representative has a duty to identify, take possession of, protect, and conserve all probate property of the estate. Note that not all property is subject to the control of the personal representative and the court-supervised probate process. Only assets that are deemed to be probate property such as personal and real property that the decedent owned individually. Non-probate property such as 401(k) plans, IRAs, assets transferred to a living trust, life insurance, payable-on-death bank accounts, and property owned by another with survivorship rights is not subject to probate. Instead, such property passes to others by operation of law upon the decedent’s death.
- Inventory estate assets. Because the primary goals of the administration process are to pay debts and distribute assets, both the personal representative and the court must understand the value of the estate. Within 2 months of appointment, the personal representative must create an inventory of estate assets that includes their value and submit the inventory to the court. Beneficiaries and heirs have the right to a copy of the inventory. They must submit a written request. 58 OK Stat § 58281.
- Notify creditors. In order to settle debt, the personal representative must first notify creditors that the estate has been opened and let them know how to file a claim. The personal representative must publish a notice within 2 months after appointment. 58 OK Stat § 6335. The notice must include the “presentment date,” which is the date by which claims must be filed.
- Pay debt. The personal representative is required to pay claims that were filed by the presentment date to the extent that there are assets in the estate to do so. If there are not sufficient assets, then the personal representative must pay claims based on the statutory order of priority. This means that some claims will not be paid. Top priority is given to paying fees related to the decedent’s funeral, the decedent’s medical expenses, and allowances to support the decedent’s family. 58 OK Stat § 58591.
- Distribute assets. The final major task of the personal representative is to distribute assets that remain in the estate after the debts and expenses are paid. The decedent’s will guides asset distribution. If the decedent does not have a will, then Oklahoma’s law of intestate succession guides asset distribution. 84 OK Stat § 84-213
The estate administration process typically takes about 4-6 months. However, the actual time frame depends on factors such as the size of the estate, if there are complicated tax matters, or if there is a will contest or other probate disputes that add time to the process. Similarly, if the estate is small and uncomplicated, the administration process can be relatively quick.