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.
Fall is starting soon and with it, Halloween celebrations. However, horror is not limited to one holiday. It can infiltrate your life and the lives of your loved ones anytime you die intestate (without a will). Impacts go well beyond the fun party-horror of Halloween. There are real consequences if you avoid estate planning.
The usual impacts of dying without a will have been discussed in detail in other articles. But real-life situations illustrate the point better. Here are three intestate horror stories of people who died before they signed a will.
Prince Rogers Nelson
Few people made it through the 1980’s without hearing about Prince. A talented musician known for his flamboyant fashion sense, he won seven Grammy Awards, one American Music Award, a Golden Globe, and an Academy Award for his work in Purple Rain in the course of his career. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, the first year he became eligible.
Prince was a fanatical organizer when it came to his numerous intellectual property rights and financial investments. When he died on April 21, 2016, the discovery that he never performed any estate planning was rather astounding considering the attention paid to other portions of his life.
The result was an estate estimated at $200 million and approximately 45 people coming forward claiming to be heirs. There were fraudulent claims, like an inmate in Colorado insisting that he was Prince’s son. (A DNA test invalidated the claim.) A niece and grandniece were also eliminated from the possibilities. In the end, a Carver County, Minnesota probate judge ruled six siblings and half-siblings as his official heirs. Although Prince had tense relationships with most of his siblings, that was never considered in the intestate proceeding. The judge had no choice but to strictly follow Minnesota’s statutes.
After one year, this is the only issue sorted out. There are still questions of who will eventually own his intellectual property rights, including the singer’s post-1995 catalog and unreleased material. Contracts remain in dispute and with that, there is no certain date of when heirs will take possession of his assets.
One of the most famous intestate deaths was Howard Hughes who passed away in 1976. A reclusive billionaire known for eccentric tendencies, he created a 34-year mess by passing away without any signs he made an effort towards estate planning.
Hughes did not have any direct descendants or immediate family to make this easier. Court authorities started with an extensive search for a will in a desperate attempt to wrap up his estate in an orderly fashion. Interviews with attorneys, banks, employees, and even the owners of hotels he frequently patronized revealed nothing. Newspaper classified ads basically begged for someone to come forward with a will and in a last-ditch effort, even a psychic was involved. It became abundantly clear that this estate was about to become an intestate nightmare.
Despite claims that Hughes hated his family and did not want them to benefit from his estate, the court still considered potential heirs. Distant cousins came out of the woodwork and before long, Nevada, California, and Texas authorities came forward to insist that Hughes owed state taxes and that his estate needed to be managed in those jurisdictions. Women claiming to be former spouses also filed claims although there were no marriage records on file.
In the end, 200 distant relatives benefited from the estate, collectively receiving $1.5 billion. Liquidation of assets continued until 2010 when the whole matter finally concluded.
Simon the Client
While there are numerous examples of famous people dying without wills (intestate), it is not just the talented and wealthy who need to draft estate plans. Regular working class, middle class and even “poor” people can leave nightmares for their loved ones if they do not have an Oregon draft a will for them to sign. One example was an estate this office handled years ago: It belonged to a client we will call “Simon.”
Simon was single with no children or grandchildren. He was an only child. His parents were gone, leaving him with no immediate relatives. Despite living an active life, he died unexpectedly at home at age 53.
Yes, Simon had assets. His modest home and one four-year-old car were owned free-and-clear. He had a live-in girlfriend for the last 10 years named Mary. A search of Simon’s safety deposit box after his death revealed what he BELIEVED TO BE a will, leaving everything to Mary. But it was not correctly witnessed and notarized. The probate court could not honor it.
That left the distribution of Simon’s estate to Oregon statutes. Since there is no room for intestate inheritance to unmarried partners, the house and car were liquidated with money passed on to distant relatives. The second cousins who benefited from the estate never had a relationship with him. Indeed, the executor (AKA personal representative) chosen by the court to manage the probate process, was a second cousin who had not seen him for 40 years.
Even though the unenforceable will made it clear that Simon wanted everything to go to Mary, the court could not honor it. Mary filed a dispute and held up the estate for eight months. In the end, she did not prevail and was evicted from Simon’s house.
Single adults who are estranged from living family have the most to lose by not having a will. However, there are no disadvantages to a will even if your situation is stable. If you are married, there is always the possibility that you and your spouse will die in the same incident. You cannot assume your spouse takes care of everything when you die–you must make allowances in case you are both gone. That is how a will can save your loved ones a lot of stress.
Avoid creating your own intestate horror story and make an appointment to draft a will that is enforceable in Oregon. Gruber & Associates, P.C. serves Washington, Multnomah, Marion, and Clackamas counties and can get you started. Contact us to schedule a consultation.