Following is a summary and guideline of the steps required by Oregon probate courts and the taxing authorities for the probate of an individual’s estate:

  1. Initiating Probate; Letters Testamentary. Probate is initiated by the filing of your petition to be appointed as personal representative (executor) of a deceased individual’s estate. The petition requests your appointment as personal representative and that the court admit the will to probate. Within a day or two after the petition is filed, the judge will sign an order approving the petition, and the court issues “letters testamentary” certifying your appointment as personal representative. You are then legally authorized to deal with all aspects of the estate, including obtaining payments on insurance, paying creditors’ claims, signing releases, listing real property for sale, transferring bank accounts, and any other duties that become necessary as a result of your appointment as personal representative.

  2. Notices. The issuance of letters testamentary is the beginning point for serving as a personal representative. Oregon law requires that, following issuance of letters of administration, a notice to interested persons be published in a newspaper notifying creditors of their right to make a claim against the estate. This notice must be published even if there are no known creditors. A potential creditor has four months within which to file claims against the estate for payment of a claim. However, even though failure to file a claim within four months generally will bar the claim, the law does provide for exceptions if a known claim has been ignored and not paid, or if the estate has sufficient assets to pay the claim after priority creditors have been paid.

  3. Unknown Creditors. Besides the notices to creditors, you will need to take affirmative action to seek out unknown creditors. I will provide you with a checklist of items to review and check off as performed by you in regards to your search for creditors. This checklist, along with an affidavit signed by you, will be filed with the court later on in the administration process.

  4. Notification to Estate Heirs and Beneficiaries. The next step is to prepare notices for all heirs and beneficiaries advising them that you have been appointed the personal representative and informing them about how to obtain information about the estate. The notice to heirs and the published notice for creditors are both required by law. We will prepare these notices for your signature.

  5. Inventory. An inventory of the probate estate assets must be filed within 60 days of your appointment. The estate assets will consist of all property owned in the decedent’s name alone. For that purpose, the list should include all of the following assets owned by the decedent at the time of his or her death: real property, bank accounts, personal property, stocks and bonds, mortgages, cash, insurance on decedent’s life, jointly owned property, notes or contracts receivable, IRS refunds, annuities, and any other property in which the decedent had an interest. The information should include the value of the asset as of the date of the decedent’s death. As soon as we have received the necessary information, we will prepare the inventory for your signature.

  6. Non-probate Assets. Although the probate inventory does not include non-probate property (such as property which passed to you by survivorship, life insurance, and retirement benefits payable to you), we will still need an itemization of the non-probate property.

  7. Responsibilities of the Personal Representative. As personal representative of the estate, you are responsible for the possession and management of all of the decedent’s property. Some of the property for which you may have responsibility is:

    1. Valuables: Securities, valuable jewelry, and other items of substantial value should be kept in a safe deposit box in the name of the estate.

    2. Bank Accounts: Each account which was in the decedent’s name alone should be determined immediately. Promptly following your appointment as personal representative, you should close the existing accounts and establish a new estate account with the bank using the amounts in the decedent’s old accounts. These new account should be an interest-bearing checking account (through which all cash flow of the estate is directed). You alone can draw on this account. No one else has authority to draw on the account. By maintaining a record of cash flow, it will be possible at a later date to prepare any necessary accounting to be submitted to the court, as well as for tax reporting.

    3. Securities: You should immediately determine the types of securities (such as stocks or bonds) and their ownership. We will assist in the determination of the nature of security ownership and its transfer to either you as personal representative, to the surviving co-owner, or to the estate beneficiary, according to ownership facts, with the assistance of the stock broker you select.

    4. Real Estate: Please provide us with all real property tax statements and documents concerning real property holdings. We will order a title search of the real property if indicated. The decedent’s residence should be secured if it is unoccupied. If there is no objection from any beneficiary, and all beneficiaries can agree among themselves in writing, you may wish to consider delivery of furniture and furnishings items, as well as the automobile, to any beneficiary who is entitled to the property and wants the same, in exchange for the transferee-beneficiary’s receipt. However, please do not do this without our help.

    5. Ownership: Please provide us with all documents showing ownership of any asset which has a record of ownership, e.g. bank account, security, real property, automobile, etc. so we can determine whether these were in the decedent’s name only or if held by the decedent and someone in “joint tenancy,” so that upon the decedent’s death, the asset would be owned by the other co-owner. A personal representative has no authority over any “joint tenancy” asset. Therefore, any asset which is owned in the manner just described should be transferred promptly to the surviving co-owner.

  8. Insurance. Additionally, the following are insurance considerations pertaining to life insurance, casualty insurance, and liability insurance.

    1. Casualty Insurance: We need to understand all facts relating to casualty insurance owned by the decedent. We may write a letter to the broker requesting the broker issue a rider to all policies of casualty insurance subject to probate administration adding you (as personal representative) as the insured, if required. After a valuation has been determined for insurable assets, we will review the policies to be sure the coverage is adequate and vacancy of the real property (if not rented) will not void the policy.

    2. Liability Insurance: For your personal protection, we recommend you consult with your insurance broker about the need to take out a public liability insurance policy.

    3. Management and Sale of Estate Property: It may be necessary to sell some of the estate property either because an item should be disposed of to avoid needless expense or loss through depreciation or value or to raise cash to pay death taxes, legacies, and expenses. Do not sell any property subject to probate without our assistance. If possible, it is usually important to consider renting any vacant real property to generate income and avoid problems of the property being vacant.

  9. Tax Returns. The estate may need to file a federal and state income tax return. An estate tax return may also have to be filed. It is the personal representative’s responsibility to employ a certified public accountant to assist with the necessary estate and income tax decisions and return preparation. We can make a referral if necessary, and will coordinate with the CPA. Please provide us with the name, address, and telephone number of the CPA you retain. The federal estate tax return, if necessary, is due nine months after the date of the decedent’s death.

  10. Estate Distribution. When the tax releases have been filed with the court, creditors have been paid, and all tax returns completed, the estate is ready for distribution. We then file an accounting with the court reporting all the property in the estate, any income received, and any disbursements made during the period of the probate. The accounting includes a petition for distribution of the estate assets to the beneficiaries, and a request that you be authorized to pay attorney fees and costs, CPA fees, if any, and your personal representative fee. After the judge signs the order approving the accounting and the distribution, distributions can be made. No distributions from the estate to beneficiaries of the estate can be made without prior approval from the court.

  11. Discharge of Personal Representative. After the final income tax return for the estate is prepared and filed and all receipts for distribution of estate assets are filed, we will petition the court to discharge you as personal representative and close the estate.

    I estimate that all these proceedings, with no complications, will take approximately six months from the time the letters appointing you as personal representative were issued. During that time, all cash from the estate must be kept in a separate account in the name of the estate. Any money received by you as personal representative must be deposited into the estate bank account. It is forbidden to commingle estate funds with your personal funds.