Probate is the legal process of paying debts and distributing assets to heirs. In Oklahoma, the term "probate" is often used to describe both the process when there is a Last Will and Testament and when there is not. Technically, it is a "probate" when a person has a Last Will and Testament, otherwise it is known as an "Administration." Generally, the court in the county where the individual lived will be the appropriate court for the probate to take place. If there is property located outside of Oklahoma another court will likely have authority to probate that specific property.
When a person does not have a Will, the court will look to Oklahoma law to decide who receives the property. This is commonly known as intestate succession. The Oklahoma Statutes tell the judge who should receive the property.
Probate is necessary for several reasons. Probate allows identification of heirs and protects the heirs. The court wants the estate going to the heirs and beneficiaries. Probate proceedings ensure that the property is distributed to the proper party and in the proper amount. In the case of real estate or other record ownership property, probate allows for the legal transfer of title.
It is important to note that probate proceedings may take some time to finish up. Any potential creditors are allowed time to make a claim against the deceased's estate in order to preserve their rights. Additionally, it may take some time to determine all the assets or to find all the heirs who will receive property.
A lot of people would like to avoid probate all together. For some reason, probate instills fear. It is actually a fairly simple process, most of the time. Some families spend large sums of money to avoid probate, but end up simply wasting their money.
As a practical matter, avoiding probate can prove difficult. The average family forgets to include all their property in the implementation of the plan. This results in a number of families having to go through a probate despite a lot of fancy, expensive planning.