How Can Family Owners work around an unresponsive 1/12 unrelated in-law Owner to do Business?

Along with my sister and my two cousins I have owned several farms we inherited in Blaine County for over 30 years. Recently, one of my cousins died without a will. Her husband, by state statute, inherited 1/3 of her land. Since she died two years ago her husband has not probated her estate, and we have not been able to get him to respond to numerous calls, emails, texts, and letters regarding family business around Right-Of-Ways and Oil/Gas Leases.

We really need him to act now in his deceased wife's place, but he is almost totally unresponsive. We would like to negotiate and execute agreements without him and have his portion of revenue held for him in case he ever responds. One company has already agreed and paid under this arrangement. Currently, a deal is on the line with a new company who is ready to walk away since he is avoiding them with his 1/12 interest.

I'm sure we are not the first family with the problem of a disinterested, unresponsive, in-law with a total inability to act or communicate. Is anyone away of a legal precedent which might allow us to conduct business, in spite of our missing-in-action, cousin-in-law's unwillingness or inability to act. How can we work around his lack of participation in his in-law's 126 year-old family business? Any help you can provide would be much appreciated.

Clarification by author - This current deal is a pipeline right-of-way.

It may be that your cousin's husband is suffering from depression or other illness and is unable to move forward. From your description, others inherited his wife's remaining 2/3 and if the estate has not been probated and settled, then their title is clouded. If your cousin had no children who could talk with their father and there is no one else who can visit directly with him, then you may need to work with an attorney to get this resolved. One option would be to ask to buy-out his 1/12 interest. Another option is for the heirs of the 2/3 interest in cousin's share to file a lawsuit to clear their title. Another option is to file a partition action to isolate his 1/12 acreage. It is sometimes possible to have surface partitioned but leave the all minerals still in joint tenancy. You might be able to accomplish that by first severing your 11/12 minerals from the surface by placing them into a jointly-owned entity. Then ask for partition of the surface. If you actually file a lawsuit, it might spur him into action to work out an agreement. This is a good time for the remaining owners to discuss the future management of your business. Problems rise where there are increasingly more owners with fractional interests. Your strength in negotiating comes through the 100% ownership. Consider placing the farms into a joint entity which can be run to a couple family members. Maybe separate surface and mineral entities. The agreement can give owners a right of first refusal if some want to sell their interests later.

We've had something similar during the past couple of years. The best advice I can give is find a competent lawyer, one familiar with mineral rights/oil, etc., and get some legal advice on how to move forward, cost, and what will be involved. It might only take a letter from a lawyer to get the fellow moving or it may involve having him served with legal action.

Sometimes a heartfelt direct approach is best. Try to see your inlaw in person. Explain that the welfare of others depends on his actions. If the wifes estate is not large enough to have to probate, have affidavits of heirship on hand for him to sign. Record them of record in every tract you own in. Most companies will risk right of way and ogls based on an affidavit. If he doesn’t want to have to negotiate suggest that he give you his executive rights. You can make the deals and he can still collect without being bothered.

All comments are good and compassionate.

In the alternative, no owner is forced to remain in ownership with another. You can buy them out, partition the property in kind, or force a partition by licitation. Ask an attorney familiar with Oklahoma property law for their comments.

Buddy Cotten