Here is a general overview of the probate process for Oregon. Washington has some similarities but is substantially abbreviated, as noted below.
Probate requires the appointment of a personal representative (referred to as the executor in certain states). If the decedent dies testate, the personal representative ultimately appointed is usually the first nominee named in the decedent’s will. If the decedent dies intestate, the personal representative is usually the relative or friend who wins the race to the courthouse and files first.
For testate estates (i.e., the decedent died with a will), the will is proved and admitted by the court. Proof is usually through an affidavit of attesting witnesses to the will. See ORS 113.055(1).
Within 30 days of the appointment of the personal representative, the heirs, devisees, and persons described in ORS 113.035(8) and (9) are notified of the decedent’s death and the pending probate administration.
The personal representative identifies and values the assets of the estate and, within 60 days of appointment, files an inventory with the court. ORS 113.165. This is not required in Washington if the personal representative requests “nonintervention” powers, which is the typical approach.
The personal representative must make a reasonably diligent search for creditors of the estate and provide them notice of the probate proceeding. ORS 115.003. Unidentified creditors are notified by publishing notice of the personal representative’s appointment once per week for three weeks in a local newspaper of general circulation. ORS 113.155(1).
Each creditor must file a claim against the estate for debts owed by the decedent no later than 30 days after personal notice is mailed or four months after the newspaper notice is published, whichever occurs later. ORS 115.005(2). If the claim is not filed within the applicable period, the underlying debt is either subordinated to timely filed claims or barred. ORS 115.005(3). A different procedure applies to mortgage loans and other secured debt.
As appropriate, the personal representative liquidates the decedent’s property and pays allowed claims and expenses of administration.
The personal representative files any required state or federal income and death tax returns and pays any taxes due. See ORS 114.305(17).
After completion of the foregoing steps, the personal representative files a final account with the court. ORS 116.083(3). In Washington, the personal representative files a very short document known as “declaration of completion” in lieu of a final account.
After court approval of the final account, the assets of the estate are distributed to the beneficiaries under the will or the heirs at law. ORS 116.113. In Washington, court approval is unnecessary to make the final distribution (or interim distributions).
Caveat: Probate is deceptively complicated. While generic probate filings can be routine, there are ample opportunities for malpractice. If claims are not disallowed within 60 days, they are deemed allowed. ORS 115.135(1). Death taxes must be paid within nine months after death or there will be substantial penalties (usually 5% per month). See, e.g., ORS 118.260(4); IRC §6651(a)(1).
Death taxes may have to be apportioned among various classes of beneficiaries. It may be necessary to select fiscal taxable years so that excess deductions are transferred to the beneficiaries under IRC §642(h), and not lost. It may be necessary to fund tax planning trusts based on a formula clause in the will. Although not technically part of the probate, tax guidance on distributions from IRAs is often necessary. This list could go on for pages.
Supervision by an experienced probate lawyer with a tax background is recommended.