When someone close to you passes away, the last thing you likely want to focus on is the legal ramifications of your loved one’s death. The reality though is that someone must do so, and that someone may be you if you were named as the Executor of the Last Will and Testament as that means your loved one has put you in charge of the administration of his/her estate. Retaining the services of an experienced estate planning attorney to assist you throughout the probate of the estate is certainly advisable. To get you started, however, the estate planning attorneys at Parman & Easterday have compiled some commonly used probate resources for the Moore, Oklahoma area.
Probate Basics for the Beginner
Probate is the legal process that is typically required after someone dies. Probate serves several important functions, including providing a legal framework within which the decedent’s assets are transferred to the new owners as well as ensuring that all creditors of the estate, including tax authorities, are paid. The individual who oversees the probate of an estate is referred to as the Executor and is appointed by the decedent if a Last Will and Testament was executed prior to death. If the decedent died intestate, or without a Will, any competent adult may volunteer to be the “Personal Representative(PR) and oversee the probate of the estate. For more general information on the probate process, the American Bar Association has a section entitled “The Probate Process” within its Estate Planning FAQs that you may wish to read. In addition, the Oklahoma Bar Association also has a section entitled “Is Probate Needed?” that offers some helpful information.
Court Resources for the Pro Se Litigant
Whether because you were appointed, or because you volunteered, if you are the Personal Representative (PR) of the estate it is your responsibility to initiate the probate of the estate as soon after the death of the decedent as possible. Probate usually takes place in the county in which the decedent was a resident at the time of death. If the decedent lived in Moore, Oklahoma that will likely mean probate will take place in the Cleveland County Court, District 21. Most Personal Representatives (PRs) retain the services of an experienced estate planning attorney to assist during the probate process, particularly if the estate does not qualify for a small estate alternative to formal probate. If, however, you decide to proceed pro se, or without the assistance of an attorney, you will be expected to understand the Oklahoma State Court Rules as well as the applicable laws and procedures. The Oklahoma LegalAid has a forms section as well as some basic information related to probate that you may find helpful.
Choosing an Attorney
Although you may not be required to retain the services of an attorney to assist you during the probate process, there are several reasons why most people choose to hire an experienced estate planning attorney to assist them nonetheless. Not only can an attorney guide you through the probate process, allowing you to focus on grieving, but having an attorney on your side also dramatically decreases the possibility of making a costly mistake. A good place to start is with the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys website. The AAEPA is a national organization of attorneys who have chosen to focus their practice on legal issues related to wills, trusts, and estates. Membership in the AAEPA signifies that an attorney has proven experience in the areas of estate planning and/or elder law. In addition, the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Finding a Lawyer section of the website is always a good resource when searching for an attorney.
Personal Representative Resources
As the Personal Representative of the estate you will have numerous duties and responsibilities throughout the probate process. To initiate the probate process you must file the appropriate petition with the Cleveland County Court, District 21. When you file the petition you will need the original signed copy of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament along with a certified copy of the death certificate. You may obtain certified death certificates from the Oklahoma State Department of Health. You will also likely need to conduct a thorough search to make sure you have identified all real property owned by the decedent. A good place to start is the Cleveland County Assessor’s Office Property Search where you can conduct a search of the county property records. As the PR you will also be responsible for notifying all creditors of the estate that probate is underway. Known creditors may be notified individually; however, for unknown creditors you must publish a notice in a local newspaper. To accomplish that requirement, you may wish to contact the Oklahoma Press Association to arrange for publication.
Paying Federal Gift and Estate Taxes
Because every estate is potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxes, you will need to be familiar with how to calculate the tax and how to prepare the tax return. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website offers a general overview of the federal estate tax. They also have a “Frequently Asked Questions about Estate Tax” section that may be helpful. If it turn out that the estate does owe federal gift and estate taxes, any tax obligation due must be paid before any assets are transferred out of the estate. Fortunately, Oklahoma is not one of the handful of states that also imposes a state estate tax. Nevertheless, you should check to ensure that you are complying with any tax filing requirements which can be done on the Oklahoma Tax Commission website.
If you have questions or concerns regarding the probate of an estate in Moore, Oklahoma, contact the experienced probate attorneys at Parman & Easterday by calling (405) 843-6100 or (913) 385-9400 to schedule your appointment today.