The loss of a loved one is a very difficult time for all involved. Probate only compounds the stress. As a result, long-held feelings of disappointment, distrust and resentment between family members may surface. In every probate, my goal is to efficiently administer the estate while following Oklahoma probate laws. At the same time, I seek to promote and maintain family harmony. As a probate attorney, I typically represent the executor or personal representative of the estate. Here are a few things I recommend to my clients when it comes to dealing with family.
The first thing I tell my clients might seem simple: they should let family members know that a probate is happening. Let’s face it: almost nobody likes getting letters from an attorney. If family members discover the probate only upon receiving notice of a hearing in the mail, they will likely be taken aback. Moreover, the personal representative should explain to the family why a probate is necessary (for instance, “We cannot legally sell mom’s house unless we probate her estate in court”). This reassures everyone that the personal representative is not needlessly spending money and delaying inheritances.
Next, I advise my clients to consult with other family members about the major decisions to be made, namely selling the deceased’s residence. Although Oklahoma probate laws authorize the personal representative to make many decisions on his or her own, it is usually a good idea to involve others in the process if at all possible.
Lastly, and I cannot stress this enough to my probate clients: be transparent. Go above and beyond the basic notice requirements of Oklahoma probate law. I have seen many cases where the personal representative did everything legally and had nothing to hide, yet found themselves in a contested probate because the other family members were not kept apprised of the case.
Family is one of the most important things in life. Unfortunately, whenever a loved one passes away, probate is sometimes a necessary evil. The last thing you want is to jeopardize your relationships with those whom you need most at a difficult time. So, remember: disclosure can get you a long way in probate.