To act on behalf of the estate of a decedent during the administration process, the District Court appoints a personal representative. In Oklahoma the term “personal representative” is used often interchangeably with the terms executor, administrator, and administrator with will annexed. While many focus on the asset distribution aspect of the estate administration, the other major objective of the process is to make sure the decedent’s debts have been paid. To begin the process that will eventually lead to debt payment and asset distribution, the District Court must appoint a personal representative.
Typically, the person is a family member such as a spouse, adult child, or sibling nominated by the decedent in their will. However, if that person is not able or qualified to serve or in the absence of a will, any interested party can apply to the court to be appointed. Even if the petitioner was nominated by the decedent in their will, the court must issue an order appointing them before they have the legal authority to act on behalf of the estate. Once appointed, the court will sign an order that serves as confirmation of the appointment and legal authority to represent the estate. For example, if they wish to access the decedent’s bank account or open a bank account in the name of the estate, the financial institution would require a copy of the order.
Duties and Responsibilities
The personal representative has overall responsibility for completing tasks that are required to settle the decedent’s estate and disburse assets, including:
- Inventorying and appraising the assets. The personal representative has the right to take control of, secure, and manage the decedent’s property. They are required to inventory the estate and determine the value of each asset as of the date of the decedent’s death. They may fulfill the appraisal requirement by including in the inventory their opinion of the value of the estate. 58 OK Stat § 58281. However, if a professional appraisal is requested, they are authorized to hire appraisers.
- Pay estate debts. A decedent’s debts do not die with them. It is the responsibility of the personal representative to pay the decedent’s debts out of estate assets. Within 2 months of appointment, they must notify creditors by publishing a notice. 58 OK Stat § 6335. They must also mail a notice to known creditors. The notice will let creditors know the deadline by which they must file claims and how to file them. They are required to pay claims that are filed within the claims period. However, if there are not sufficient assets in the estate to pay all timely filed, valid claims, they must follow a statutory order of priority with the following claims receiving top priority:
- Funeral expenses.
- The expenses of the decedent’s last sickness.
- Family allowance
- Taxes owed the federal, state, or local government
- Debts having preference under federal and state law
58 OK Stat § 58591
- Final accounting. Before asset distribution, unless waived, the personal representative must submit to the District Court a final accounting for settlement of the estate. The accounting must include the amount of money received and expended by the estate, the amount of all claims presented against the estate and the names of the claimants, and any other information necessary to show the condition of the estate. 58 OK Stat § 58-541
- Distribute estate assets. Once debt and expenses have paid and the court has approved the final accounting (unless waived), the court will approve asset distribution. The personal representative will then distribute the decedent’s assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries or heirs as required by law. 84 OK Stat § 84-213
The personal representative can be compensated for their work as provided by the will. If the will is silent, there is no will, or the personal representative renounces what the will allows, they would be entitled to commissions based on the value of the estate as follows:
- For the $1,000: 5%
- For the next $5,000: 4%
- For all amounts above $6000: 2.5%
The judge has the authority to increase the amount of compensation if it is reasonable to do so based on the work performed. The total amount of compensation paid from an estate does not increase because there is more than one personal representatives. The same fee must be divided among them.