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Probate administration complicated by missing heir

Although the death of a loved one may be difficult, some find comfort in the generous gifts the deceased leaves behind. However, making a will or other estate plan only goes so far if the documents are not updated regularly. For example, probate administration becomes difficult when designated heirs cannot be located. Oklahoma laws typically require an extensive search before closing the estate.

A woman in another state had divided her estate between her two nieces. After she died, the executor of the estate was unable to locate one of the cousins, which meant the other niece had to wait to gain her share of the inheritance. Even when the woman tried to contact her missing cousin herself, she was unsuccessful. Rather than waiting indefinitely for her share of the estate, the woman sought alternatives the executor could take to distribute the inheritance while still searching for the missing heir.

Hiring a search firm is often necessary in such cases. These firms can be expensive, dipping into the estate funds for their fees and thereby reducing the inheritance, sometimes as much as 40 percent. However, the executor may request that the court allow a preliminary distribution of assets to one cousin so she does not have to wait for her inheritance.

Meanwhile, the court may approve releasing the missing woman's portion to the state to complete probate. This would leave the funds available if the cousin is located. If all avenues of search are exhausted, the court may also allow the executor to give the niece her cousin's share of the inheritance.

While an Oklahoma court may not require probate administration to go on indefinitely to find a missing heir, such complications do cost time and money. Having legal advice, whether one is an heir or an estate executor, may help the process to move along. Additionally, facing these complex issues may encourage heirs to seek professional help in more thoroughly preparing their own estates.

Source: montereyherald.com, "The case of the missing heir", Liza Horvath, Sept. 2, 2017

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