By: James Godbold – Published in the BizWest Thought Leaders column in November 2021
Ownership of oil, gas and other minerals is considered an interest in real property. When someone dies, their assets in real property are typically transferred through a probate proceeding. In order to transfer the oil, gas and mineral interests, certain documents must be recorded in the county where those interests are located. In the case of deceased family members, this includes documents related to their estate and deeds transferring the interests.
One of the most common problems with confirming title to oil and gas interests occurs where a probate proceeding is never started. In that situation, title to the oil, gas and mineral interests remains in the name of the deceased person. When an estate is not probated, the presumed heirs may be able to sign a lease but will not be able to receive royalties from oil and gas production until steps are taken to clean up problems in the chain of title. In some cases, this may be as easy as probating the estate to properly transfer the interest. In other situations, however, opening an estate may not be the most practical solution. This can occur where multiple heirs have since passed away, or the original decedent passed away so long ago that opening an estate for them is not practical. In this situation, a person interested in clearing title to oil and gas interests may wish to pursue a determination of heirship proceeding.
The basic requirements for filing a determination of heirship proceeding are that at least one (1) year has passed since the decedent’s date of death, and the decedent’s estate was either not administered, or some portion of the decedent’s property was not settled. Once a determination of heirship proceeding has been started, the Court will determine the heirs of devisees of the decedent and the person’s entitled to ownership of the oil and gas rights.
If you need assistance in resolving or curing title to oil, gas and mineral rights, and are unsure of the best way to approach cleaning up title, an attorney with experience in curing oil and gas title issues can provide legal guidance to protect your best interests and preserve your ownership in property.