Probate is the legal process where a court oversees the administration of a person’s estate after death. It typically includes taking an inventory of all of the estate’s assets, repaying any debts or taxes from the estate, and distributing the remaining assets pursuant the will’s instructions. In Oklahoma, as in most states, the first step is for the will's executor to file the will for probate in the district court where the decedent resided.
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All wills must be probated in Oklahoma. Once the executor files the will with the court, the court’s first responsibility is to decide if the will is legal and authentic. This process is relatively simple unless an interested party challenges the validity or authenticity of the will. Once the will is authenticated, the executor must file an inventory of the estate’s assets with the court. The executor must collect all monies due to the estate, find all the heirs and possible heirs listed in the will, account for any and all debts and taxes, and pay those amounts -- all with the supervision of the court.
The regular probate process includes the preparation and filing of several legal pleadings, the publishing of certain notices to creditors and possible heirs in newspapers, attendance and participation in several court hearings, property appraisals for the estate and accounting for all funds. In addition, the executor must prepare interim and final tax returns for the estate, and distribute the property pursuant to the will’s instructions and with approval from the court.
While all wills must be filed for probate, small estates may go through a much simpler probate process than larger estates. Under Oklahoma law, a small estate is defined as $150,000 or less. Expedited and simplified probate procedures can be initiated with an application by the executor and approval of the court.
Small Estate Probate
Wills with estates valued at less than $150,000 must be probated. However, the executor can apply to the court for expedited procedures. This may be done only after the appraisal of the estate’s assets determines that they are worth less than $150,000. The court has the authority to dispense with the regular probate proceedings, order notice to any creditors, then summarily order a hearing to distribute the assets and discharge the probate after the executor provides the final accounting. This process generally follows a shorter time frame than regular probate, and may save the estate money.