Edmond Probate Attorneys
Helping Oklahoma Clients Resolve Disputes and Avoid Probate
When someone passes away, Oklahoma requires that their estate go through some level of probate, even if they have proactively taken extensive steps to avoid the process as much as possible. On some level, a person’s estate must be reviewed and closed, even if it is only a formality.
Many unfortunately do not take full advantage of estate planning tools and therefore have more of their estate subject to the time-consuming probate process. You may also be summoned as an heir to a loved one or get drawn into a dispute over property bequeathed to you in a loved one’s will.
Any time you become embroiled in a probate problem, it is in your best interest to retain the services of our Edmond probate lawyers at Gossen and Schaller, PLLC. Our firm has extensive experience working with every element of Oklahoma’s probate court and is prepared to represent you in whatever problem you face. Our goal is to make what can otherwise be a frustrating and expensive process as painless and cost efficient as possible.
How Does Probate Work in Oklahoma?
Every probate case is different, but the ultimate goal is to “settle” and “close” an estate. This typically means resolving any of the deceased’s obligations, notifying heirs of the death, and honoring any intentions left in valid estate planning documents.
Oklahoma’s probate courts aim to accomplish the following tasks:
- Inventory and collect all property of the deceased’s estate
- Resolve any outstanding debts tied to the estate
- Identify and contact all living heirs of the deceased
- Distribute all probate property in accordance with a valid last will and testament or, absent one, in accordance with intestacy laws
If the deceased formalized a last will and testament, they likely named an executor to manage the administration of the probate process. This individual is responsible for submitting an inventory of the deceased’s property and a list of heirs to the probate court, among other things. It is a substantial time commitment and responsibility, leading some to appoint a professional to help versus a loved one or close friend.
Once living heirs have been contacted, they have the opportunity to dispute the validity of the will or some element of its contents. This can be common in situations where a will has not been properly formalized (forcing a court to decide whether a document can be accepted as a valid will), when an heir suspects the deceased was pressured into making changes or not mentally competent at the time of its formalizing, or when a family member feels they were unfairly omitted.
Litigation typically decides these disputes and can hold up an expedient resolution of an estate. This can represent a substantial delay in the deceased’s property being distributed in accordance with their wishes and is a major headache for any party involved. If your loved one left you a house in their will and another family member disputed the validity of that will, for example, you could find yourself at the center of a costly probate dispute.
Our Edmond probate attorneys can represent you should you become deliberately or inadvertently involved in a probate-related conflict. If you believe your loved one was pressured to make changes to their will, or someone is falsely arguing that a will benefitting you is invalid, we can work to make sure their true wishes are honored and you receive what they intended.
In situations where there is no will whatsoever, Oklahoma probate courts resort to the state’s intestacy laws. These regulations divide the probate property of the deceased among their most immediate relatives, regardless of their specific intentions. Generally, if the deceased was married with children who all survive them, the spouse will receive 50% of the probate property, while the other 50% will be divided equally amongst the surviving children. This can create situations where the deceased may decide to leave the bulk or valuable pieces of their estate to a close friend instead of their spouse or children, prompting scorned family members to argue the will is invalid, as the alternative can greatly benefit them.
It is possible to avoid the grand majority of probate problems through proactive estate planning. Probate courts only have jurisdiction over “probate property,” or any assets in the deceased’s name that do not have a clear joint owner. All probate property, as the name would imply, must go through probate.
Nonprobate property is not subject to probate and is generally protected from litigious disputes that can prevent the deceased’s intentions from being honored. Probably the most common type of nonprobate property is any asset placed in a trust, but the category also includes wealth placed in certain kinds of retirement accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s. It is possible to set up pay-on-death bank accounts or transfer-on-death securities accounts that avoid the probate process. By using a revocable living trust in lieu of a will to protect the majority or entirety of your assets, you better guarantee your wishes will be expediently carried out. This helps your beneficiaries from having to deal with the worst consequences of probate.
Additionally, Oklahoma allows the “small estate” exemption that allows them to avoid the bulk of the more involved probate process. If the entirety of the deceased’s probate property holds a value of $50,000 or less, excluding real estate value, they are considered a “small estate” and are eligible for the exemption. The deceased’s successors can file a Small Estates Affidavit with the court and, if approved, skip much of the probate process.
We Can Help You with Your Probate Dispute
Whether you have become inadvertently involved in a probate dispute or believe you have the grounds to dispute a probate proceeding, our Edmond probate lawyers at Gossen and Schaller, PLLC are prepared to assist you. Our team has over 20 years of legal experience, and we focus much of our practice in the area of probate. We understand probate can be contentious and emotionally draining, especially when you are forced to litigate the intentions of a loved one. Our goal is to relieve you of the burden of probate as much as possible.
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