Estate administration is the legal process of settling the estate of a person who has died. It is also referred to as probate. In Oregon, the Circuit Court in the county in which the decedent lived at the time of death has jurisdiction over the process. Or. Rev. Stat. § § 113.015. The two main purposes of probate are to make sure that a decedent’s property goes to the right beneficiaries or heirs and to ensure that the estate’s creditors are paid.
Appointing Personal Representative
A personal representative is the person who settles the affairs of a decedent. A will generally names a personal representative (referred to as an executor). If a person dies without a will, any interested party can petition the Circuit Court for appointment. Preference is given in the following order of priority:
- The surviving spouse of the decedent or the nominee of the surviving spouse
- The next of kin of the decedent or the nominee of the next of kin
- The Director of Human Services or the Director of the Oregon Health Authority
- The Department of Veterans’ Affairs
- Any other person.
Or. Rev. Stat. § § 113.085
Regardless of whether the decedent left a will, the personal representative must first petition the court and receive approval before having legal authority to manage the decedent’s estate.
Submitting the Will
The personal representative must submit a certified copy of the will, if any, so that it can be “proved.” The will can be proved either by affidavit sworn by the witnesses to the will or by the witnesses testifying in court that at the time the will was signed, the decedent was mentally competent.
The personal representative must notify creditors that a probate case has been initiated and that they have been appointed as personal representative. Notification is made by publication in a local newspaper or by written notice. The notice will include the date by which creditors must file claims and the manner of filing claims. Or. Rev. Stat. § 113.155. The claims period is 4 months.
Inventory of Assets
Because one of the primary goals of estate administration is to distribute asset assets to beneficiaries and heirs, the personal representative must determine what assets are in the decedent’s probate estate and must inform the court. Within 60 days after the date of appointment, the personal representative must file with the Circuit Court an inventory of all the property of the estate that has come under their control or about which they have knowledge. The inventory must include the value of each asset as of the date of the death of the decedent. Or. Rev. Stat. § 113.165.
Debts are Paid
The other primary purpose of estate administration is to ensure that the decedent’s debts are paid. Claims must be presented in writing and must state the nature of the claim and the amount. All valid claims that were filed during the claims period must be paid from estate assets. The personal representative is permitted to commence paying claims the day after the end of the claims period.
When the estate is ready for distribution, the personal representative is required to submit an accounting to the Circuit Court. The accounting must include the total value of the estate as indicated in the inventory, all money and property received into the estate during the period covered by the account, and all disbursements made during the period covered by the account. Or. Rev. Stat. § 116.083.
The personal representative must seek court permission to distribute assets by filing a petition for judgment along with the final account. After court approval of the account and the petition for judgment, the personal representative will distribute the decedent’s assets to the people and entities named in the will or, if the person died without a will, to the heirs of the decedent according to Oregon’s law of intestate succession. Or. Rev. Stat. §§ 112.035 and 112.045
The estate administration process takes a minimum of four months. If the estate includes property that takes a while to sell, if there are complicated tax matters, or if there are probate disputes, the process can last much longer.