|Opinion:||In the Matter of the Estate of Powers, 2022 OK CIV APP 26|
|Subject matter:||Probate Procedure|
|Date Decided:||June 7, 2022|
|Trial Court:||District Court of Caddo County; Judge Hill|
|Route to this Court:||Becky Powers (spouse) appeals from an order of the district court in this probate proceeding.|
|Facts:||After Decedent’s passing in April 2012 in Colorado, his daughter initiated a probate proceeding as the administrator. Decedent had assets and mineral rights in Oklahoma, thus the Administrator filed a Petition for Ancillary Probate of Last Will and Testament in the District Court of Caddo County. In September 2020, Administrator in the Final Account asserted that all the mineral rights were sold and that the remaining ancillary estate’s net proceeds from the mineral sale were to be paid towards debts, expenses for medical treatment and the funeral costs. All this was done pursuant to decedent’s will. Administrator then requested leave of the court to transfer the monetary assets to the domiciliary estate in Colorado.|
Spouse filed an objection to Final Account, asserting that there was no authority subjecting Oklahoma to Colorado law regarding probate assets. She requested a widow’s allowance for her maintaining the probate proceeding and asserted there were unaccounted for assets in Oklahoma.
Relying on 58 O.S. 2011 § 633, Administrator asserted statutory authorization for the delivery of assets of this state to the executor of Decedent’s state of residence. Also, Administrator asserted that after title research with hired counsel, there was no evidence of remaining assets in Oklahoma. Administrator claimed further that the Spouse was not entitled to widow’s allowance because she was entitled to seek help regardless of the insolvency or solvency of the estate, and that the request for the allowance came five years too late.
|Standard of Review:||Probate proceedings are of equitable cognizance. In re Estate of Fulks, 2020 OK 94, ¶ 9; In re Estate of Maheras, 1996 OK 40, ¶ 7. Therefore, “[w]e presume that the trial court’s decision is legally correct and we will not disturb the trial court’s decision unless it is ‘found to be clearly contrary to the weight of the evidence or to some governing principle of law.'” Fulks, ¶ 9 (footnote omitted). Issues of law, including issues of statutory construction, are reviewed under a de novo standard of review. Id. (footnote omitted).|
|Analysis:||The Court first addressed Spouses argument that the district court erred in allowing the transfer of assets from the ancillary Oklahoma estate to the domiciliary Colorado estate. Spouse relied on Estate of Miller, 1988 OK CIV APP 19, to argue that Oklahoma law is not subject to Colorado law in regard to transferring assets. However, it is well-established Oklahoma law that foreign executors may not convey or hold title to real property located in Oklahoma and that this state’s laws dictate the transfer of title to real estate. Spouse relied on 58 O.S. § 633, and correctly argued that district courts have discretionary authority to allow the transfer of assets to the administrator of the domiciliary estate. The Court distinguished these facts from the facts in Miller, in that the Miller court rejected the complete transfer of assets to the decedent’s estate in Texas because the spouse was a pretermitted heir and public policy dictated that the spouse be allowed to take against the will which left the entirety of the estate to decedent’s son. Here, the Spouse sought to recover her equal share of her inheritance, rather than recover based on public policy. Thus, Miller was not applicable.|
The Court determined that the use of discretion that § 633 grants in its application, it is critical that courts apply it so that Oklahoma laws of descent and distribution dictate the decision and not allow another jurisdiction’s laws to dictate the transfer of assets and real property within Oklahoma. Further, Oklahoma courts are to grant a significant amount of deference to the intent of the decedent and his wishes when carrying out the probate of the estate. Here, the Decedent desired that the assets from his Oklahoma property go towards the payment of Colorado debts.
Spouse alleged that under 58 O.S. §§ 314-315, statutory authority dictates that a widow’s allowance was mandatory. In handling this argument, the Court relied on Reed v. Charles Broadway Rouse, Inc., 1935 OK 1087, which was precedential authority dictating that family allowance is discretionary. That same court also held that a request for spousal allowance must be made promptly. The facts here were analogous, because a similar time period of five years had elapsed between the time of the death of the family member and the request for allowance. The Spouse did not demonstrate with evidence that she was in need of an allowance. Also, the Spouse had already filed for an allowance in Colorado, therefore, it would have been incorrect for Oklahoma to rule on the issue as well so as to avoid granting duplicative spousal allowances. Thus, courts have discretionary authority in granting family allowances.
|Vote:||3-0. Fischer, C.J., Hixon, J., and Barnes, P., concur.|