Q: How is my estate administered if I die without a will?
A: Last week, we defined “probate” as a judicial proceeding to administer a decedent’s last will and testament. We also distinguished an “estate administration” proceeding from a probate proceeding by explaining that an administration is the process used when the decedent died without a will. So, the question now is how does the process work if the decedent died without a will?
First, laws regarding property that pass outside of a decedent’s will equally apply to property that is in an estate without a will. Property that is held in joint tenancy with another person will pass to the survivor without the need for an estate administration. Most married couples own their homes in joint tenancy, and many single people hold real estate in joint tenancy with another person. Cars are often titled in two names. These joint assets pass to the survivor without going to court. But there are some caveats. Joint property can still be subject to payment of the decedent’s debts and taxes. In addition, the surviving joint tenant must file an affidavit with the county clerk in order to become the sole owner of jointly owned real estate.
Assets that the decedent held in his name individually, though, will most likely have to go through an estate administration. The process here is virtually identical to a probate proceeding for a person who died with a will. An interested party, usually a spouse or child, files a petition to administer the decedent’s estate and provides notice to all heirs. The court will appoint an administrator of the estate. The administrator will be charged with collecting and providing an inventory of all the decedent’s assets and liabilities. The administrator will be responsible for notifying the decedent’s creditors to present their claims for payment and for paying all just debts. Depending on the size and nature of the estate, the administrator may have to file estate tax returns or final income tax returns.
Ultimately, the administrator will file a final accounting and ask the court for authority to distribute the estate’s assets to the proper persons. Once approved, the administrator will distribute the assets to the decedent’s heirs and the proceeding will be closed. To whom the assets are distributed when there is no will is well settled and complex. We’ll discuss that issue next week.
MATT HOPKINS is an attorney for Lester, Loving & Davies P.C. More information is available at lldlaw.com. Send questions to
Q: How is my estate administered if I die without a will?
Picking out the perfect tree can be a joy for whole family
The Griswolds understood the significance of picking out the family Christmas tree, as do many Oklahomans about this time of year. Visiting one of Oklahoma’s “choose-and-cut” tree farms is a good way to jumpstart the holiday spirit.
Old-fashioned trimming for tree isn't as green as you might think
Strands of lights are ubiquitous this time of year - tangled in leafless trees, framing windows, sparkling their way to Santa's sled.
Crocodiles and alligators may be smarter than they look
An alligator lies submerged, its body just barely breaching the surface. A snowy egret spots a good-looking stick floating on the water. It would make a fine addition to her nest, so she swoops down to snatch it up. Bad idea.
All I want for Christmas is a new Christmas song
Despite the gigabytes of Christmas music released each year — big stars making their first charge into the yule breach this year include Kelly Clarkson, Mary J. Blige, and, alarmingly, the cast of Duck Dynasty — they are, overwhelmingly, reiterating yuletide warhorses.
Skip the cookie exchange for a holiday bash with simple delicious treats
We wanted to have a holiday gathering but didn’t have a lot of time to prep, plan or prepare.
So what did we do?
Should Detroit sell its priceless art to pay the bills?
A federal judge ruled Dec. 3 that Detroit met the conditions for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Now a question that's been simmering for months is coming to a boil: Should the Detroit Institute of Arts - one of the country's finest art museums and perhaps the city's greatest cultural asset - sell some or all of its collection to satisfy creditors?
Federal energy efficiency tax credits ending in 2013
If you are planning to do some home improvements to make your home more energy efficient, now is the time to take action. Multiple federal energy efficiency tax credits are set to expire permanently at the end of the year.
Oklahomans have until Dec. 31 to take advantage of a cumulative maximum of $500 in credits for energy-related improvements completed in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The credits are a cumulative maximum of $1,500 for improvements done in 2009 and 2010.
The tax credits are for energy improvements done to existing homes owned by you, and used as your principal residence, said Scott Frazier, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension energy management engineer. New construction and rentals are not eligible for these federal tax credits.
Colleges brings liberal arts education into prisons
The men would eat, study, sleep, wake up and work, as they must, inside a prison complex surrounded by high fences and coils of barbed wire. Their campus is the Maryland Correctional Institution-Jessup. No ivory towers here. Just guard towers.
VIDEO: Wedding crashed by Ironman, Batman, knights and more
This entertaining wedding featured a duel between knights, cameo appearances by Batman and Ironman, and a wide array of unexpected wedding crashers.
A 67-year-old caroling tradition
Ruthanna Weber, 98, has been organizing a Kenwood, Md., caroling tradition since World War II when she was in the Navy.
- More Features Headlines
- Picking out the perfect tree can be a joy for whole family