Oklahoma Probate

What types of property require an Oklahoma probate?

In this blog post, I talked about what types of property are Oklahoma probate property.  Below are some scenarios in which you might need to do Oklahoma probate:
 

->Mineral Interests.
A person dies owning an Oklahoma mineral interest, but the interest is not held in a trust, and the title is solely in the name of the person who dies.  Many times, the operator of the oil and gas well will not continue to pay royalties without an order from the Oklahoma probate court specifying who the heirs are.  For example, a person lives in Texas but inherited a mineral interest from a parent in Garvin County, Oklahoma.  The title to that mineral interest will need to be changed from the person’s parent to the person.

–>Life insurance
A person dies leaving a life insurance policy with beneficiaries who are no longer living;

—>Not transferred to Trust.
Consider, a person who *has* a living trust dies, but that person never transferred their property to the trust.  For example, the person owned their home but did not change the title to the home to make the trust the owner of the home.  That failure to change the title to the home likely means the person’s heirs will need to do an Oklahoma probate to change the title to the home.  The process of transferring legal title to your property to your Oklahoma living trust is known “funding”, funding is critical and you can more about it here;

—->Accounts with no beneficiary
Typically, with retirement accounts, investment accounts and many times on bank accounts, there is the opportunity to name a beneficiary.  The beneficiary is the person or people who automatically receive the proceeds of the account (with proof of death of the owner and proof of beneficiary identify of course).  If a person does not name at least one beneficiary on an account such as this, that usually means the account is going to probate.  Without probate, the company holding the account will not release it (there are two small exceptions to the general rule: Oklahoma small estate affidavit and Oklahoma affidavit of delivery of personal property); and

—–>Real Property
An unmarried person dies owning a house and title to the house is solely in the deceased person’s name; although other states provide a process where title to real property can be transferred by affidavit, I am not aware of any similar process in the state of Oklahoma. I believe that the only way to transfer title to real property, where the person who died is the sole owner of the real property, is to get an order from a judge transferring title, out of a probate case.

Posted by Shawn Roberts in Blogposts, Oklahoma Probate

What is Oklahoma probate property?

In 20 years of practicing law, I have seen general confusion about probate property and non-probate property. 

My goal in this Post is to make the distinction between Oklahoma probate and non-probate property clearer.  And to add another [hopefully] helpful layer to this question, not all probate property requires that a probate case be filed.  More on that consideration below and in this post, When [and why] you might need to do an Oklahoma probate.

Probate Property
Probate property is any property (real, personal or otherwise) owned by someone who dies that is not set up to transfer automatically upon death.  Some examples are helpful:

  • Real Property.
    An unmarried person dies owning a house and title to the house is solely in the deceased person’s name; although other states provide a process where title to real property can be transferred by affidavit, I am not aware of any similar process in the state of Oklahoma. I believe that the only way to transfer title to real property, where the person who died is the sole owner of the real property, is to get an order from a judge transferring title, out of a probate case.

  • Life insurance.
    A person dies leaving a life insurance policy with beneficiaries who are no longer living;

  • Not transferred to Trust.
    A person who has a living trust dies, but has a property that was never transferred to the trust such as real property or investment accounts;

  • Accounts with no beneficiary.
    Typically, with retirement accounts, investment accounts and many times on bank accounts, there is the opportunity to name a beneficiary.  The beneficiary is the person or people who automatically receive the proceeds of the account (with proof of death of the owner and proof of beneficiary identify of course).  If a person does not name at least one beneficiary on an account such as this, that usually means the account is going to probate.  Without probate, the company holding the account will not release it; and

  • Mineral Interests.
    A person dies owning an Oklahoma mineral interest, but the interest is not held in a trust, and the title is solely in the name of the person who dies.  Many times, the operator of the Well will not continue to pay royalties without an order from the Oklahoma probate court specifying who the heirs are.

No probate case required?
It is important to note that not all “probate property” requires a probate case.  Large-scale items such as real property and mineral interests require probate to change the title.  However, personal property with no title such as furniture, a gun collection or jewelry usually does not require a probate case.  That is, personal property is usually passed without a problem outside of a probate case. You can read more about whether a probate case is required in this Post.

Non-Probate Property
Non-probate property is any property owned by someone who dies that is set up to pass to someone else through a system or contract.  That means, there is a mechanism in place where the title to the property is transferred.  Again, some examples will be helpful:

  • Joint Tenancy Property
    This is real property (such as your house), where there are at least two owners that own the property as “joint tenants with right of survivorship.”  When one owner dies, the surviving owner becomes the owner of the property, without the need to do a probate case but with the need to do a couple of other legal formalities you can read about here.

  • Life Insurance
    An insurance policy is a contract between you and the insurance company. As part of the contract, you are entitled to choose who the policy proceeds go to after you pass away.  If you make at least one choice (i.e., designate a beneficiary), the person you choose will receive the policy proceeds without the need for a probate case.

  • Bank Accounts
    This is converse of the “accounts with no beneficiary” label above in this Post.  If you name a beneficiary on the account, then ownership of the account (or depending on the type of account, the account proceeds) should pass to the person you name, upon your death, no probate case required.

 

Posted by Shawn Roberts in Blogposts, Oklahoma Probate

Consider the cost/benefit analysis in determining whether to do an Oklahoma probate

One of the primary questions that needs to be answered is whether a probate case is necessary? As we discussed, my goal is always to try to find a way to avoid doing a probate case if possible and still allow my client to access the assets.

Whether you do an Oklahoma probate is a cost/benefit analysis:  The cost of doing the probate (attorney fees, court costs, etc.. .) versus the benefit you hope to receive from the process (control over property, inheritance of property you would not otherwise get).  To be able to perform a reliable cost/benefit analysis, you need to understand why probate happens.  The answer is that while probate happens for many reasons, the primary reason is when there is property to inherit, but it can’t be inherited unless you do probate.

Although a lot of effort is put into avoiding Oklahoma probate, there are times when it is simply the only option to change the title to a piece of property or free up funds held in a bank account. The result of a probate proceeding is usually a Judge signing an order that transfers title to the property.

Why probate happens

Below are some scenarios in which you might need to do Oklahoma probate:
  • Real Property.

An unmarried person dies owning a house and title to the house is solely in the deceased person’s name; although other states provide a process where title to real property can be transferred by affidavit, I am not aware of any similar process in the state of Oklahoma. I believe that the only way to transfer title to real property, where the person who died is the sole owner of the real property, is to get an order from a judge transferring title, out of a probate case.
  • Life insurance.

A person dies leaving a life insurance policy with beneficiaries who are no longer living;
  • Not transferred to Trust.

A person who has a living trust dies, but has property that was never transferred to the trust such as real property or investment accounts;
  • Accounts with no beneficiary.

Typically, with retirement accounts, investment accounts and many times on bank accounts, there is the opportunity to name a beneficiary.  The beneficiary is the person or people who automatically receive the proceeds of the account (with proof of death of the owner and proof of beneficiary identify of course).  If a person does not name at least one beneficiary on an account such as this, that usually means the account is going to probate.  Without probate, the company holding the account will not release it (there are two small exceptions to the general rule: Oklahoma small estate affidavit and Oklahoma affidavit of delivery of personal property); and
  • Mineral Interests.

A person dies owning an Oklahoma mineral interest, but the interest is not held in a trust, and the title is solely in the name of the person who dies.  Many times, the operator of the Well will not continue to pay royalties without an order from the Oklahoma probate court specifying who the heirs are.
As you might expect, this means that sometimes the question of whether to do probate or not is difficult when the value of the assets in the estate are small because that value must be weighed against the cost of doing the probate.

Who would end up with the property in probate?

The other question is assuming the person who passed away did not have a last will and testament, who would end up owning the property?  His property would pass under Oklahoma law of intestate succession, which is found at Title 84 O.S. sec. 213.  Section 213 is a difficult statute to interpret, but generally, the order of inheritance would go as follows:  spouse, children, grandchildren, the parents of the decedent, children of parents in equal shares (your uncle’s siblings), grandparents of the decedent; children of the decedent’s grandparents.

Summary Probate

Sometimes the question of whether to do a probate or not is difficult when the value of the assets in the estate are small because that value must be weighed against the cost of doing the probate.
 
The Estate may qualify for the summary probate process. This is an abbreviated version of a full probate, with the emphasis being on speed and reducing some of the cost of the normal probate process. That being said, there are still cost. In my experience, this type of probate cost 3,000.00-$3500.00, plus out-of-pocket cost.  You can read more about the summary probate process here.
 
 
 
 
Posted by Shawn Roberts in Blogposts, Oklahoma Probate

Should your automobiles be transferred to your Oklahoma revocable living trust?

It is a good question.

The short answer is “yes,“ automobiles should be transferred to a person’s Oklahoma revocable trust, to receive the full benefits of Oklahoma estate planning. Below is a bit longer explanation:

Purpose of Estate Planning with a Revocable Trust

One of the purposes of doing estate planning with a revocable living trust is allowing a person’s family to avoid Oklahoma probate when the person passes away. The trust helps a person avoid probate because assets that typically force a probate case are owned by the trust when a person passes away (more on that here).

 
For example, if an individual owns real property at the time of his death, titled solely in his name, with no mechanism to pass the title to the property (such as a transfer-on-death deed), the real property is going to have to be probated to change the title to the heirs.
Contrasting that scenario with the revocable trust scenario, upon a person’s death where his revocable trust owns real property, the trust can continue as the owner and eventually transfer title to the property to the beneficiaries. Since a change in title is accomplished by the trust, there is no need to do a probate case based on the real property.

Automobiles and Revocable Trust

Automobiles come up a little bit short in terms of forcing an estate to be probated. There are scenarios where one can change the title to an automobile following a person’s death, by taking the original title to a tag agent and demonstrating that they are the beneficiaries entitled to receive the automobile. This showing of beneficiary status is usually accomplished with a last will and testament. This method is inconsistent and sometimes varies from tag agent to tag agent, so I do not recommend this method to my clients.

Instead, I recommend that my clients transfer title to their automobiles to their revocable living trust by signing the back of the original title at the tag agent. It’s a relatively simple process and allows people to get the full benefit of the revocable living trust.

Posted by Shawn Roberts in Blogposts, Oklahoma Estate Planning, Oklahoma Probate

Can you sell property that is in an Oklahoma probate case?

Most people have either heard stories about your experience firsthand and estate going through the probate process. Often those experiences are not positive ones.

One of the questions that often comes up is “can I sell this item that is part of the probate case? “

The answer is yes but the process is different depending on what type of item it is. Below is a brief overview of how property can be sold out of probate depending on what type of property it is.

1.  Real property

Real property includes items such as houses, land with nothing build on it and mineral interest. For items such as these, you almost always have to get the written approval of the judge and the probate case before making a sale.

2.  High-value personal property

High-value personal property includes things such as automobiles, jewelry, it’s in recreational vehicles and usually any item that has a paper title issued by the government.  As with real property, and written approval is typically required from the court prior to selling this type of property. However, there may be a few exceptions that fall into the category for below.

3.  Lower value personal property

This category includes items that have no paper title issued by the government such as household furnishings, tools, any other odds and ends that a person may have collected throughout their life.

4.  Personal property that must be sold quickly to protect its value

As with most things in the law, there are a few more details and I can share in a blog list. For that reason, if you encounter the issue of selling something out of probate be certain to talk to an attorney about it before you take any kind of action.

 

If you want to know more about the Oklahoma probate, consider checking out these posts:

Will the Oklahoma summary probate process help you?        When you might need to do an Oklahoma probate             

Five Questions and Answers about Oklahoma probate

Posted by Shawn Roberts in Blogposts, Oklahoma Probate

The Oklahoma transfer-on-death deed: Smart Probate Avoidance

What happens to a person’s property when they die in Oklahoma?

There is a detailed answer in this post, What happens to a person’s property when they die?

The shorter answer is that it goes to your relatives, the people you chose in your last will and testament or Oklahoma revocable trust. If you own real property outright and pass away you will need a court order in an Oklahoma probate case to change the title from the person who passed away to his heirs.  There are several ways to avoid this results.  One way is the Oklahoma transfer-on-death deed.

Oklahoma Transfer-on-Death Deed

The Oklahoma TOD allows you to set up your real property to pass to another person after you die.  You sign and record the Deed with the Oklahoma county clerk in the county where the property is located. The person you giving the property to does not become the owner until you pass.  But, when you pass away, . . .

Transfer of the Property after death

The property passes almost automatically, with the person inheriting the property only need to file an affidavit stating that person died, whether the person was married and a legal description of the property.

 

If this is something that interests you or you like to talk about Oklahoma estate planning, please contact me.

 

Posted by Shawn Roberts in Blogposts, Oklahoma Estate Planning, Oklahoma Probate

Two ways to change title to a car without Oklahoma probate

Image provided by Flickr user Keith Ellwood

Image provided by Flickr user Keith Ellwood

Would you like to know two ways you can change the title to a car owned by a person who died, without going through an Oklahoma probate?

If your answer is “yes”, you have found the right post. 🙂

I have written volumes on this blog about Oklahoma estate planning and a lesser amount about addressing the situation where someone died without doing estate planning.  I would like to provide a few cleanup tools that can be used to avoid probate even after someone didn’t do Oklahoma estate planning.

There are two options that may apply for changing the title to a car owned by someone who died with going through Oklahoma probate.

  1. Oklahoma No Administrator Affidavit.

My experience has been that most tag agents will transfer title to the vehicle following a person’s death when the No Administrator Affidavit is provided.  I wrote about this Affidavit on this blog post.  This document will generally allow the title to a car to be transferred if:

  • A properly completed No Administrator Affidavit is provided;
  • A certified copy of the death certificate is provided; and
  • The facts are such where the person asking for the change in title (ostensibly to themselves) has a clear right to receive the vehicle.
  1. Oklahoma Small Estate Affidavit.

The other option is the Oklahoma Tax Commission’s Small Estate Affidavit.  This document is used to transfer the ownership of a vehicle when:

  • The car is given to someone in a last will and testament,
  • The total value of the estate is not greater than $50,000.00, and
  • The person who is given the car in the last will and testament must sign the Oklahoma Small Estate Affidavit.

 

There are no guarantees of course; even when you think you have done everything correctly, the transfer of title still doesn’t happen.  If you run into this type of issue, give me a call or an email.

Posted by Shawn Roberts in Blogposts, Oklahoma Estate Planning, Oklahoma Probate

5 things you can do with an Oklahoma trust that you can’t do with a Will

From Jerry "Woody" on Flickr

From Jerry “Woody” on Flickr

One of the primary decisions a person has to make after they’ve decided they are going to do Oklahoma estate planning is whether they’re going to go the trust route or the last will and testament route.

Both routes allow a person to make decisions about how their estate will be distributed and how their family will be cared for. There are however some things that a person can do with a living trust that the same person cannot do with the last will and testament. I’m going to provide a list of some of these things that will hopefully be helpful is another tool for determining whether you want to go the trust route or the last will and testament route.


 Your family can avoid probate.

As I wrote about in this post,  a Will does not provide any means to avoid probate. If you pass away owning real property that is not jointly titled, your heirs will be going through the probate process at some point. With an Oklahoma trust, however, the trust exists and owns the real property the day it is transferred into the trust. Since the Trust is the owner of the real property, the death of an individual does not impact this.  No probate case is required to transfer title to the real property.  Your family saves time and money.

 Protect your privacy.

Privacy is one of the most significant underrated features of a living trust.  How is privacy part of the trust process? To understand this you must understand what happens if a person dies with no living trust. If a person passes away owning real property, investment accounts or mineral interest usually that person’s errors must file a probate proceeding to access the property. Oklahoma probate is a public process. You file a lawsuit in the County Court in which the deceased person lived and all of the documents filed in the lawsuit are publicly available. Not only are the documents publicly available, but with current technology, most of the documents can be accessed from any Internet-enabled computer. That means anyone can view the documents that are part of the probate case including the last will and testament which often contains personal details and other private family matters.

 Plan for a special needs child.

If you have children, grandchildren, or other dependents with special needs a Trust can be customized to meet these needs, by specifying and limiting access or control over the inherited property. A Will allows you to pass on your property to those heirs but a Will in itself does not allow you to exercise substantial control or provide protection for your heirs’ use of the property.

 Facilitate your care during disability.

Creating a revocable trust is an excellent way to ensure your property remains available to be used for your benefit if you become incapable of managing your own affairs. While continuity of management is also possible when a durable power of attorney is signed, third parties such as banks, brokers and transfer agents often have more difficulty in dealing with a power of attorney than with a trust. And, if the designated attorney-in-fact is unable to act, the power of attorney may not be usable.  If you become disabled and you have neither a revocable trust nor a power of attorney, an expensive, lengthy, and potentially embarrassing court proceeding is generally required to appoint a conservator or guardian before your property can be used to benefit either you or your family. And even after a guardian has been named, continued court supervision over the management of investments and disbursements is usually required. This can include annual bond fees, annual fees for providing a court-ordered accounting and additional legal and accounting fees.  A Will is not helpful in this area because it does not go into effect until you pass away.

 Allow your family to have immediate access to your assets at death.

Assets in a revocable trust at the grantor’s death are available to raise cash to pay income, estate and other taxes, administration expenses and debts immediately after death, without waiting for a probate decree or issuance of preliminary letters. If the trust is funded prior to death, the property in the trust remains in the trustee’s name before and after death and is immediately available for liquidation should the need arise.

Posted by Shawn Roberts in Blogposts, Oklahoma Probate

Why is Oklahoma estate planning important? It may help avoid a nuclear-class disaster within the family . . .

Why is Oklahoma estate planning important?

I have asked and answered that question hundreds of times both on this blog and in real life. My answer generally is because it protects your family when you are gone. One of the primary protections is disputes over how you would’ve wanted your property to be distributed in your family taking care of.

However, nothing makes the point better than seeing the result of the failure to plan. Let me give you a factual scenario that is rooted in real life events:

Husband and wife Mary in their late 30s. Both have children from previous relationships. They own their home, another rental property and some lake-front property in another part of the state. They live happily for 35 years until husband passes away. Neither husband nor wife has a will or a trust.

Wife, who is now a widow in her late 60s, is left to administer the estate. She is guided by what she believes her husband wanted. However, the husband’s children from his first relationship don’t see things the same way as the wife. With no Will or Trust to resolve the issues, the wife and the children are left to battle in probate court over the property. Although probate is usually a fairly routine, process, this probate is akin to a full-blown adversarial no holds barred lawsuit. Everyone involved believes they knew what husband wanted but nobody has clear enough proof to prevail quickly. Thousands of dollars in attorney fees and incalculable amounts of emotional damage occur throughout the process.

How could this have been avoided?

The Husband could have expressed his wishes on paper, in a last will and testament.

Posted by Shawn Roberts in Blogposts, Oklahoma Estate Planning, Oklahoma Probate

When do I have to file a tax return for a gift I make?

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Gifting into a tax return

While it is not a subject that most people consider often, there are circumstances where a person can make a gift and be required to file a tax return covering the gift and potentially paying tax on the gift. Most people are aware that if you die owning a large enough estate you may have to pay the IRS tax. Many people are also aware that there is an exemption, this year in the amount of $5.3 million, under which you are not required to file a return or pay taxes to the IRS.  What a lot of people don’t think about is that the exemption can be whittled down based on gifts a person makes during their lifetime.

The Annual Exclusion

One way to avoid reducing the lifetime exemption is to take advantage of the annual exclusion.  Each person is entitled to make an unlimited number of gifts each year without any tax consequences provided that the gifts do not exceed the annual exclusion, which in 2014 is $14,000.00. Gifts above the $14,000 number require that the person making the gift file a gift tax return.

What the IRS say about gifts

As the IRS states:

The gift tax is a tax on the transfer of property by one individual to another while receiving nothing, or less than full value, in return. The tax applies whether the donor intends the transfer to be a gift or not.The gift tax applies to the transfer by gift of any property. You make a gift if you give property (including money), or the use of or income from property, without expecting to receive something of at least equal value in return. If you sell something at less than its full value or if you make an interest-free or reduced-interest loan, you may be making a gift.

 The key points

So, here is a summary of how it breaks down:

  • You can gift up to $14,000.00 to just about any person without  return required or tax being owed;
  • You can gift more than $14,000.00 each year to your spouse without a return required or tax being owed;
  • If you gift over $14,000.00 to a person this year, you will need to file a federal gift tax return, IRS Form 709.  The IRS Form 709 is due on or before April 15 of the year following the year that you have made taxable gifts.

 

Remember however that the rules on gift taxes like many other taxes are complicated. You should consult a tax professional before making any final decisions including the decision whether you need to file a return or not

Posted by Shawn Roberts in Blogposts, Oklahoma Estate Planning, Oklahoma Probate