The attorneys with the Law Offices of Nay & Friedenberg explain the rights of a beneficiary during the probate process.
Prior to the decedent’s passing, beneficiaries have few, if any, rights. The beneficiary’s interest in an estate or trust does not “vest” until the decedent’s death. To be “vested” means that the beneficiary has an absolute right to ownership in the property as of the moment of the decedent’s passing.
That being said, it may take several months, sometimes years, before the beneficiary actually comes into possession of the inheritance. The first duty of the Trustee or the Personal Representative is to pay all of the decedent’s last bills. The Trustee or Personal Representative cannot distribute to the beneficiaries in full until all creditors’ claims have been satisfied. In some cases, there is not enough money in the trust or estate to pay all of the decedent’s bills. In those cases, the beneficiaries do not receive any inheritance.
If the estate goes through the probate court process, it will take at least 4 months before the estate will be distributed as Oregon law requires that probates remain open for a minimum of 4 months. In reality, it generally takes 6 to 12 months before a probate estate will close because of the many steps required in the probate process. In a few cases, it may take more than a year based on the complexity of the estate administration.
Distributions from the decedent’s living trust will generally happen more quickly as there is no statutory requirement that the Trustee wait 4 months to distribute. Yet practical reasons may delay the distribution. For example, the Trustee may have to wait for the house to sell in order to have sufficient cash to pay bills and then distribute to the beneficiaries. If the estate is subject to estate tax, the Trustee will usually wait to distribute until the estate tax return is filed and the estate taxes paid. The estate tax return is due 9 months after the date of death.
The Personal Representative or Trustee is a fiduciary and held to a high standard of responsibility. Beneficiaries of probate estates and trusts have the right to information from the Personal Representative or Trustee. Beneficiaries have the right to an accounting of all activity in the estate and trust accounts. If a beneficiary disagrees with the way that the Personal Representative or Trustee is managing estate or trust funds, he or she can go to court and seek relief. For advice about a particular situation, beneficiaries should seek their own legal counsel.
An experienced estate planning attorney makes all the difference in making sure you have the proper documents to fit your planning needs. Contact the Estate Planning attorneys with the Law Offices of Nay & Friedenberg in Portland, Oregon at (503) 245-0894 to set an appointment.
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