Old oil & gas records - keep all?

Hello we are in the process of probate to transfer my husbands moms deeds (22 deeds in OK) into his name. She passed away a year ago so the process has been long as her estate in TX had to finish probate first. She kept excellent records and most appear to have current leases and we have checks that need to be reissued etc so we will be in contact with leasing companies after probate is finished.

I have been reading a lot as this business is very new to us, but my initial question is she had a thick file for every tract, saved every single thing, even old deeds (these tracts were transferred to her), old leases, emails, letters, copies of checks. Very organized in two large boxes. Some of these records are quite ancient. As we are trying to figure everything out, these records are great in a sense as she was very smart in her dealings so we can learn from her records, but what all do we need to keep? I am thinking very old information (like pre-computers lol) and old deeds can be discarded after we get the new deeds?

How would I know if a lease in a file has expired? I am assuming only one leasing company would be in effect for any tract owned is that correct? Assuming they lease the entire thing?

Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you!

Welcome to MRF. Except for expired leases, I would keep it all, and look into buying mineral management software if there are 40 properties to track.

Regarding your last two questions, on how to know if leases in mother in laws files have expired, and whether there might be more than one leasing company (lessee) per tract…If royalties are currently being on a tract that indicates there is an active lease, but you will need to determine if all your acreage was included in the producing unit or portions of the acreage were excluded and the lease on that part possibly expired. That could depend on whether the lease included wording like a Pugh clause or depth clauses.

On the tracts where no royalties are being paid, look at the lease term of the most recent lease in each of those files. If, for example, a non-producing lease says it was for a primary term of 5 years beginning on January 1, 2014 then that lease may have expired this month. If leases included extension options you’ll need to determine if the options were exercised extending the original lease term.

On any of those most recent leases where the lease term indicates they have expired, mail a registered letter to the lessee named in the lease and request that they record a release in the deed records to document that their lease terminated. Depending how long ago the primary term of a lease expired you may find the leasing company has gone out of business, or an original lessee assigned the lease to another company. Some operators may resist providing you a release if the wording in your lease doesn’t specifically require it, but is logical to ask for and should at the least allow you to determine if the lessee thinks they still have a valid lease.

Keep it all! We have family records going back 100 years and I am constantly going back to find old information. That being said, there could be a whole lot of paper! You can keep it in that format, but I would suggest that you could scan it in a logical fashion and store in online is something like Dropbox. We have copies on our personal computers, backed up on external hard drives also stored in the cloud in Dropbox. There are other choices out there as well.

We use Excel to keep track of things, but there are software packages out there that are available for a fee. Up to you.

When we scan our records, we have set categories for each tract and name each similar file in the same way. For example, Deeds, Division Orders, Leases, Regulatory case documents, maps, exhibits, well information, etc. Always keep the original documents that pertain to title!

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Deeds and other legal documents, especially the ones that are stamped as recorded in the county records, should always be retained. Deeds don’t get “replaced” during probate, unless the Executor/trix or Administrator/trix signs a new deed, as Grantor, to the devisees/heirs named in a probated Will. Otherwise, title passes via the probated Will.

An oil and gas division order analyst looks for an Order Accepting Final Accounting signed by the Judge for probate in Texas (or proof all taxes have been paid, if no final accounting was required), but looks for the Final Decree of Distribution in Oklahoma probate proceedings. Texas probate doesn’t issue a Final Decree like Oklahoma.

Title to the deed gets transferred from the previous owner to the new owner(s) when a Will is probated, but the deed is the foundational proof of the origination of your ownership. Likewise, every other legal document could be additional proof of ownership, proving how it went from the original Grantee in the deed to each new owner via probate. I’ve seen land ownership get handed down in a family over three or more generations, via only probated Wills. The original, old deed never got replaced–title simply moved from owner to owner because of inheritance.

As for how you would know if a lease in a file has expired, this is a question every oil company asks whenever they look to get a lease covering a tract of land. County records won’t tell you if the lease has expired, because every lease for at least the past 100 years allows for an oil and gas lease to continue for as long as it continues to produce. This is why an “Affidavit of Non-Production” is so common in the industry, and is obtained by a lease broker as part of the title curative to prove that a new lease is now the valid, existing lease.