Help! My Dead Relative Never Executed a Will!
No one is immune to dying without a will. Some people believe it is unnecessary and others never find the time to sit down with an estate planning attorney and make plans. The chances of you discovering that one of your loved ones fell into the same trap is fairly high, considering only 40 percent of Americans have a will or living trust.
The result of this discovery is extra work to top off your period of grief. Here is what to know when your loved one dies intestate in Oregon.
There are Big Differences
Estates are classified as testate or intestate. An intestate estate belongs to an individual who died without a will. The opposite is testate, which means there is an enforceable will in place at the time of death. The estate can also become intestate if there was a will but it failed to meet legal requirements.
Property distribution in intestate estates is determined by statutes, not the decedent’s preference. Even if family members proclaim to know what their loved one truly desired, that is not enforceable unless those wishes are documented in a will.
Property distribution procedure is the primary difference between an intestate and testate estate. Other differences involve administration.
With all probate proceedings, the Court appoints a personal representative (PR) to handle the estate. If there is a will, the court virtually always appoints either the primary PR or the alternative PR who is named in the will. Since the deceased chose the PR and the will does not require a bond, the court will not require that the PR buy a probate bond.
In an intestate proceeding, the court chooses the personal representative. Normally, this duty is granted to a surviving spouse or child. If the decedent was not married and does not have children, the search will continue to find a suitable relative, even if that person has not seen the deceased for years. While there is more leniency to appoint a live-in partner or friend to this position, it is still done with resistance.
Intestate proceedings also require the PR to buy probate bond. Basically, this is an insurance policy, that protects creditors and heirs if the estate is mishandled. The amount of the bond is determined by the value of the estate, as well as the credit-worthiness of the PR.
When you start an intestate probate proceeding, be prepared to list potential personal representatives and pay for a bond. The first will be easier if you can get all relatives to agree to one person. If not, a court hearing may be necessary before the judge chooses a PR.
To streamline the probate process, you need comprehensive lists of the following:
- Possible heirs
- Real estate holdings
- Financial accounts, including checking, stock brokerage, and long-term savings
- Personal property of note, including jewelry and art
- Income tax records
- Life insurance policies
Once probate proceedings have begun, you must alert possible heirs within 30 days and provide an inventory of property within 60 days. All creditors must also receive notice of the probate so they can file claims against the estate to pay off the decedent’s debts.
Intestate proceedings often take longer due to this step. People who do not draft wills also fail to communicate on what they actually own. If they were estranged from their family, they may never have communicated with their friends the identity of any family members or even where they live.
This often means hunting down information. If family is unknown, finding heirs is often dependent on published newspaper notices. Since few people share their financial information openly, you often have to request credit reports, search paper files, and review mail to collect a list of property and debts.
If the decedent was working at the time, you need to contact their workplace to see if there were any employer-provided retirement accounts or life insurance policies. Those assets may list beneficiaries who can receive the funds immediately and give you one less item to manage during the probate.
Looking around the decedent’s home, you may need to call in an appraiser to value any art, jewelry or other assets. It is better to assume something has value and discover it does not, than be accused of devaluing the estate later.
Many of these tasks cannot be performed until a personal representative is appointed. But if you can start making a list of what you do find before you start proceedings, it will make it that much easier to compile the required documents.
Depending on your discoveries, you may be able to avoid a full probate process.
This includes using a small estate affidavit. This is a streamlined probate process that addresses estates containing less than $200,000 of real estate and less than $75,000 of personal property or less that $275,000 of the two combined. If the estate meets these qualifications, you can probate the estate and transfer property with an affidavit rather than filing multiple documents with the court.
This often becomes possible because a decedent purchases mainly non-probate assets. If an account or real estate deed contains a joint owner with right of survivorship, those assets are transferred to the survivor immediately. No probate is necessary. In fact, you do not even have to report them in a small estate affidavit.
If you believe the decedent does not own much in the way of assets, value the estate and talk with a probate attorney before filing anything with the court. That way, you can file the small estate affidavit rather than risking a full probate process for no reason.
Grief already makes the loss of a loved one difficult but when they die without a will, your work has unfortunately just started. In these instances, an Oregon probate attorney can make a big difference in assuring that the probate process goes as smoothly as possible.
Diane L. Gruber, Attorney at Law, handles Oregon testate and intestate probates with confidence so you can worry less. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.