When Oklahomans hear of “probate,” they may immediately think of a big fight involving a loved one’s will. While the term “probate” has a bad connotation for some, the term actually refers to the legal process that most estates, will or no will, have to go through before property can get legally transferred to a deceased person’s heirs.
Admitting a will in to probate, which basically means getting acknowledgement that the will is binding and legal document, is only one step in the entire probate administration process. The process, all of which is overseen to some degree by a local Oklahoma judge, starts when the court appoints a person called a “personal representative” to handle the affairs of the estate.
Although a personal representative has many responsibilities, he or she basically is in charge of winding up the business affairs of the deceased person and passing along the property according either to the will or, if there is no will, under the provisions of Oklahoma law.
Once a personal representative gets chosen, he or she sets about collecting or otherwise securing all property that belonged to the deceased person. Of course, not every piece of property goes through probate. For example, a person’s 401(k) or life insurance proceeds will pass directly to the named beneficiary and will only go through probate if there is no beneficiary.
After that, the personal representative pays off the deceased person’s valid debts, determines who the heirs are and delivers the inherited property to them. Doing so will also involve getting an accurate net value of the estate. In many cases, all of this is done without any objection or dispute and just involves some time and administrative paperwork.
Nevertheless, especially in the wake of a person’s death, even a routine and uncontested probate can be a legal and emotional headache. It is usually advisable for a personal representative to seek legal assistance on behalf of the estate.