Estate Distribution For People Who Die Without Wills, Family Or Heirs

The Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) administers the estates of people who died without any apparent family or other heirs. This includes situations in which a person died without a will or other estate plan and no close family, and in which the named beneficiary of a will is not found. DSL acts in place of the personal representative with regard to administering the property and other assets left by the deceased pursuant to Oregon probate laws. In 2012, the department distributed $890,172 to heirs located by DSL, while about half that amount defaulted to the state's Common School Trust, because heirs were not found or refused the inheritance. 

What happens when you die without a will, trust or other estate plan? 

When people die, their property will be distributed in accordance with their valid will, trust or other plan. When none exists, there still may be some property that can be distributed, such as life insurance proceeds to the named beneficiaries and jointly owned property, as provided by law. All other property and assets will be inherited by the closest surviving family members, as provided by Chapter 112 of Oregon Statutes. These family members can include: 

  • Surviving spouse, if no children
  • Children or their descendants
  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Descendants of siblings
  • Grandparents
  • Descendants of grandparents 

If there are also children from a previous marriage or relationship of the decedent, those children would get half of the estate and the surviving spouse would get the other half. If there is no surviving family or the family cannot be found, the estate escheats to the State of Oregon. DSL holds the property in a trust for 10 years within the state's Common School Trust, after which the proceeds belong to the trust. DSL can bring a will contest to the same degree the family could. 

Finding long lost relatives 

There are many businesses that specialize in finding long lost relatives who can inherit an estate. DSL will also investigate whether there are any heirs who can be located. There is a requirement to notify DSL within 48 hours if you become aware of the death of someone without a will or known family. This is especially applicable to funeral homes, hospitals and landlords.

The trusts and estates litigation attorneys at Kell, Alterman & Runstein, L.L.P. can help families find and claim their inheritance in probate proceedings before the court.

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