Probate after-action report: Oregon

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Probate after-action report: Oregon

Post by ccieemeritus » Thu Dec 06, 2018 4:49 pm

My Mom died on November 1st 2017 and the uncontested probate just cleared 13 months later. I kept some notes and thought they would be helpful for people going into probate or drawing up a will:

Timeline. The probate was in Oregon. I live in California. Each step requiring a physical document was delayed a few extra days for mail.

I found this a shockingly long process (13 months). I marked the 3 items which delayed the process in bold. But even without those delays this would have been an 8+ month process.

11/1/17: Mom passes away
11/17/17: Death certificate in hand
11/28/17: Probate 1st submission (without notarized witness statements....rejected)
12/6/17: Probate 2nd submission with notarized witness statements
12/8/17: Probate approved
12/18/17: "Letter of testamentary" in hand. Opened estate checking account.
1/1/18: Mom's empty house damaged due to broken refrigerator water line
5/?/18: House repairs complete
6/1/18: House sold
7/16/18: Final accounting complete
8/8/18: General judgement submitted to county court
9/21/18: General judgement approved
9/26/18: Mailed out money to inheritors with receipts and self-addressed stamped envelopes
10/22/18: Received receipts
10/30/18: One receipt rejected by court because it was not dated.
11/9/18: Corrected receipt submitted to court.
12/6/18: Court issues supplemental judgement closing estate.

Getting the death certificate and letter of testamentary:

Death was on November 1st. Death certificate in my hands on 11/17. It’s almost impossible to make any progress on final arrangements without the death certificate.

The "letter of testamentary" (identifying me as personal representative of the estate) got to me on 12/18/17 (1.5 months after death). Until then I could not open an estate account and could not use my Mom's sole-control accounts to pay any bills.

No interest on the estate checking account:

The final accountings require an entry for every credit and debit. To minimize the entries to account for, get an estate checking account with no interest.

Creating the will and will validity:

We used Quicken Will Maker Plus 2017 from Nolo to make the will. In Oregon a will requires 2 witnesses who do not inherit. The will can optionally be notarized by the witnesses at the time of signing (this is called a self-signed affidavit). If a self-signed affidavit is not made that requires the witnesses to sign and notarize a statement after time-of-death.

In our case we (knowingly) did not fill out the self signed affidavit (the witnesses had mobility issues, making it hard to get to a notary). After death a mobile legal aide-notary went to the witnesses house and got their statements.

The original submission of the will to the probate court was rejected without the witness statements and without a self-signed affidavit. A 2nd submission was approved with the notarized witness statements.

If one or both of the witnesses had died before probate I don’t know what would have happened.

Nolo Willmaker correctly explained the witness requirements for Oregon. But it is easy for an individual to make a mistake following those requirements. That could have resulted in an invalid will possibly resulting in a completely different inheritance result. I get nervous when a simple mistake could have caused a hundreds-of-thousand dollars impact.

If I had to do this again, I would have hired a mobile notary to get the will’s witnesses notarized at time of signing. But I'm undecided on whether to hire a lawyer or use Nolo for a future simple will.

Will complexity:

The will was simple. No minor children. Proceeds equally distributed among five grandchildren (two minors). No trusts. Minors received money in UTMA accounts with custodians identified in the will. The probate took so long one of the minors turned 18 and inherited without a custodian. Nobody objected during the process.

Online probate forms for do-it-yourselfers: NOT

Washington county court in Oregon has a website with a probate forms section.

There is nothing useful there. Not even samples of probate proceedings. I found it impossible to attempt a self-help probate. I hired a probate lawyer with a $3000 estimate assuming no objections. After seeing the probate submittals there is no way I could have navigated probate without a lawyer.

Probate law is state-by-state. Probate administration is county-by-county. So while we have easy online forms for most processes, it is likely that probate will remain a "paperwork exercise for lawyers" for the foreseeable future in most jurisdictions.

Household items:

The will left the “household items” to “the descendants” at “executor discretion”. That made divvying up the household items simple/convenient. I used a google drive to keep a household inventory and let the descendants identify what they wanted.

My Mom's car was distributed similarly: "to one of the grandchildren at executor discretion based on proximity and need".

I sent most of the pictures off to a service which digitizes them and distributed electronic copies to everyone.

Will designation versus IRA beneficiary designation:

Brokerages ignore the will and obey beneficiary desgnations (assuming there are beneficiary designations). In particular the brokerages required that a parent of the beneficiary minor grandkid be the custodian (as opposed to the will which specified an adult sister, due to parental financial issues).

In this case the parents were separated. The first parent to show up at the brokerage with a copy of the death certificate and proof of parentage gained control of the minor’s account (as a fiduciary for the child of course).

This is also a reminder that, if your life circumstances change, update your beneficiaries on each and every account. You might have multiple accounts at a particular brokerage.

Beneficiary designations are very convenient. They avoid probate. The money in accounts with designated beneficiaries was redistributed quickly. But leave at least one account behind for the executor to pay bills and administer the estate until the house is sold.

Joint account is helpful:

Prior to death my Mom placed me as joint owner of a medium-sized checking account. This avoided probate for this account. I used that account to pay final expenses, routine bills and, now at the end of probate, am distributing the remaining funds to the 5 grandkids as intended.

This was a huge help. I did not receive the “letter of testamentary” until December 18th (1.5 months after the death). The joint account let me pay all bills eliminating any creditors from the probate. Probate requires a detailed accounting of all expenses including copies of checks. But with all the bills paid with an account out of probate, there were very few transactions in the estate to formally account for to the court.

The other advantage of the joint account (or one checking account without beneficiaries) is it allows estate administration. If every account had a beneficiary, and the only significant assets of the estate were the house and car, the executor/personal-representative would have no money to pay bills until the house was sold.

It's also important to have enough money in the estate to pay any debts. If all accounts passed by beneficiaries but there was a negative net worth left over in the estate, things would have gotten more complicated. Not a problem in my Mom's case.

I love my Scansnap:

I use a Scansnap S1300i to scan bills/statements (putting them into my dropbox) as opposed to putting them in my 4-drawer file cabinet (which, after several decades, is at capacity). I don’t like e-bills because I get too much email. Physical mail goes in a box which I process. Email can be missed, resulting in late bills.

My Scansnap is incredibly useful for my normal activities, but for signing and sending documents to the (remote) probate lawyer it was incredibly helpful.

Mom’s Cat

I found a good home for Mom’s cat with a relative, but there was no bequest in the will to help with the cat’s expenses. The relative is financially “ok” but needed some help to pay for grooming/vet/food expenses (I pitched in). Leaving aside some money as a bequest to whoever takes care of a pet may be something to consider when writing a will.

House damage and insurance

My Mom's house was empty and, before we could sell it, suffered water damage from a broken ice maker line. Fortunately, I had a relative visiting the house periodically so the damage was less than 2 weeks old. House insurance does not pay out for water damage if the water has been standing for more than 2 weeks. If you have an empty house have it checked out periodically and have the checker text you one picture each time to document the visit. This may also apply to long vacations.

Keeping the heirs informed.

Probate is shockingly slow. I sent periodic emails to the heirs letting them know what was going on. But I got impatient even though I was "in charge". Without updates, as an heir, I would have been very suspicious.

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Re: Probate after-action report: Oregon

Post by senex » Thu Dec 06, 2018 5:02 pm

Thank you for sharing. This is *extremely* useful.

I have struggled to find internet answers to certain simple questions (like what happens when a minor is an IRA beneficiary). Your post is full of useful tidbits that are very hard to find elsewhere. Thanks again for sharing.

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Re: Probate after-action report: Oregon

Post by megabad » Thu Dec 06, 2018 5:32 pm

I agree very cool to see your specific experience, thanks for posting. You are a very nice person distributing the joint account to grandchildren. I assume this was a small amount so no matter but technically since this was a joint account, you have gifted your own money to grandchildren. This is likely the moral thing to do, but could have gift tax consequences if the number was very large (I assume it was not).

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Re: Probate after-action report: Oregon

Post by 6Pack » Thu Dec 06, 2018 5:53 pm

No offense, but hiring an attorney would have saved you a ton of problems.

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Re: Probate after-action report: Oregon

Post by Trapper » Thu Dec 06, 2018 8:41 pm

Thank you for taking the time to post.
Good and useful information.

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Re: Probate after-action report: Oregon

Post by 8foot7 » Thu Dec 06, 2018 8:51 pm

6Pack wrote:
Thu Dec 06, 2018 5:53 pm
No offense, but hiring an attorney would have saved you a ton of problems.
OP did.

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Re: Probate after-action report: Oregon

Post by bengal22 » Fri Dec 07, 2018 12:15 am

We did it in Ohio without a lawyer and it was much quicker. The sale of the house was the longest lead time. We got death certificates within days. Everyone except for 1 or 2 exceptions were ok with copies. Got permission to be executor when we files. Clerks at probate were super helpful and made any correction when we turned in forms. Web site was helpful and outlined requirements and the actual forms. A lawyer wanted 5K to fill out about ten simple forms.
"Earn All You Can; Give All You Can; Save All You Can." .... John Wesley

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Re: Probate after-action report: Oregon

Post by sschoe2 » Fri Dec 07, 2018 10:58 am

I did it in Illinois with just a small estate affidavit. The house was in a trust so it wasn't part of the probatable estate, and everything but a brokerage account had beneficiaries. It was much smoother. No need for a probate court and other than Bank of America which put me through a 2 month long circus of incompetence and obstinance which required a CFPB complaint to finally get them to respect Illinois law it went pretty well.

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