Understanding the will executor duties in Oregon has its complexities, but it really boils down to one essential rule of thumb: Do nothing until your attorney says it’s okay.
Don’t misuse your powers over the estate
Being in the deceased’s will does not automatically give you power over the decedent’s property. The probate court needs to appoint you as a personal representative (or PR) to have extensive powers and responsibilities over the estate. One of the first things you’ll want to understand? Those powers come with the obligation to do nothing until your attorney and/or the probate court approve it.
Unfortunately, whether intentionally or accidentally, sometimes PRs misuse that power. Misuses and abuses come with real legal, civil, or even criminal consequences. When it comes to carrying out will executor duties in Oregon, here are some key things to do—and not to do—as an estate personal representative.
Your attorney helps you stay out of legal hot water: Follow their instructions.
As a PR, you’ll have the authority to collect assets, such as selling investments or real property. However, even when a valid will spells out distributions, that doesn’t mean you get to start distribution assets right away.
That’s why the estate’s attorney may instruct you to do nothing until they give the okay. The main reasons for this? The lawyer is coordinating with the probate court to ensure that:
- You correctly follow the probate process,
- Notice and time is given to everyone who is entitled, and
- You do not accidentally harm a creditor or beneficiary.
If you start taking action on the estate outside of the proper procedures and timelines, not only can this cause problems in probate court, it can also create legal problems for you.
What does that boil down to?
Take no action on the estate unless your lawyer has given the okay.
If you ignore your attorney’s advice or go against the estate or the court, the consequences can pile up quickly. Egregious actions can result in criminal penalties, loss of inheritance, and more.
Being a PR or executor isn’t a limitless license to do whatever you want.
Wills and trusts aren’t the only things that govern estates. The rules of the probate process and the court’s decisions also guide estates. As a PR, you have an obligation to follow those rules and decisions—even if they’re counter to your personal wishes.
In Oregon, in order to be a PR, legal counsel has to represent you. However, if there’s a problem, trouble awaits the PR, not the lawyer. If a PR abuses their role, the lawyer may even withdraw. If that happens, the court will demand the PR show cause for what is causing the attorney to withdraw.
As a PR, you’ll be able to open the estate, collect and inventory assets, protect property, pay expenses, settle debts, and make distributions to beneficiaries. While that last part can be the most exciting, it’s also the one where following the process is crucial.
For example, selling stocks and distributing dividends to whoever you want, before the court has approved settlement, could create huge problems for the estate—and for you. A will or trust may have different designations for what to do with the assets. The estate may still be fulfilling payment obligations to creditors. Or it’s simply not the right time in the process to liquidate those assets.
Wait until your attorney has received letters of administration from the court.
Your attorney helps implement the terms of the will or trust. They guide you through the probate process. Attorneys may also take care of matters such as receiving mail for the estate, or liquidating bank accounts.
When there’s not a will for the estate, the court will issue letters of administration. If there is a will, the court will issue letters testamentary. Once you’ve received letters of administration or letters testamentary, then you as the PR have full authority to transact on behalf of the estate. From there, you as the PR can collect assets, liquidate accounts, or incur expenses on behalf of the estate (such as cleaning up property prior to listing it for sale).
While you wait for the court to give approval, you can work with your attorney to map out what can be done in the meantime. You can also list out tasks to work through once you have the approval to move forward.
Don’t distribute assets until the court has approved the estate’s petition for distribution.
As a PR, your first obligation is to pay creditors, then beneficiaries.
It is deemed that four months after the notice to creditors is published in an appropriate newspaper creditors have had an opportunity to come forward and make claims against the estate to settle debts. Once creditors are known and settled, the court can be petitioned for distribution. Only when the court has approved that petition can asset distribution begin.
Work closely with your attorney, follow their instructions, and settle the estate—without getting yourself in legal trouble
Settling an estate has to follow requirements, and dire consequences can result from misuses or abuses. However, when you work closely with your attorney and follow their instructions, the probate process can move more smoothly.
Will executor duties in Oregon are manageable. Get the right estate attorney by your side for every step of the way: