I am regularly surprised at how our estate planning practice overlaps with our oil and gas practice. Lately I have helped a number of clients navigate the re-titling of an ancestor’s mineral interest by working through the probate courts. When an individual dies, the probate court takes all of the real property titled in the deceased person’s name and determines the new owner. The same is true of oil, gas, and mineral interests, as they are real property.
This process is fairly straightforward if the individual had a will that clearly stated where they wanted these interests to go. Even so, the probate court must approve of the transfer. This can be a lengthy process and is subject to court costs and attorney’s fees.
Alternatively, the mineral interests can pass automatically if they are part of a deed containing survivorship language. These deeds provide that when one of the landowners dies, their interest passes automatically to the remaining landowners. This process avoids the probate court, but still requires some additional paperwork for it to be valid.
Landowners seeking to reclaim abandoned mineral interests pursuant to Ohio’s Dormant Minerals Act are also likely to deal with the probate court. If a surface owner records a notice of their intent to declare a mineral interest abandoned, it puts the mineral owner’s heirs on notice that they have to defend their title to the minerals. Many times it is not clear just who the heirs of the mineral owner are. A thorough search of the county’s probate records can help identify them. Our attorneys have frequently been called upon to conduct this research.
Similarly, we often help clients “clean up” their title to a mineral interest they have inherited. Oil and gas companies like to be 100% certain that the landowner who signs a lease actually owns their minerals. To that end, they typically require a thorough title search showing with absolute certainty that this individual owns their minerals. Regrettably, deeds and leases aren’t always adequately drafted, and that can create confusion or uncertainty about someone’s ownership of a mineral interest. The lawyers in our firm draw on decades of experience with probate courts, as well as oil and gas law, and are very well-suited to resolving these issues.