You have the choice not to set up an estate plan. But you should make an informed decision whether or not to have a will, trust and other estate planning documents in place. For one thing, you should know what the consequences of dying without an estate plan are in Oregon.
State law determines who your heirs are
According to the law, when someone passes away without a valid will, they died “intestate.” Note that just telling family members what your final wishes are is not enough to count as a will in most cases. When an Oregon resident dies intestate, state intestacy law determines who inherits the deceased’s assets.
This can result in complications and gifts that the deceased did not intend, but there is simply no way for the probate court to know what those intentions might have been. For example, rock musician Prince died in 2016 without leaving behind a will. Because he was not survived by a spouse or any children, his siblings and half-siblings have been fighting in court over his estate ever since. Whether he intended to split his estate evenly between his siblings or had another inheritance scheme in mind may never be known.
You might not like your executor
Besides expressing how your assets will be distributed, you can use your will to name who will serve as the personal representative of your estate. Also known as the executor, the personal representative is responsible for guiding the estate through probate court, making sure creditors and taxes are paid off, and the remaining assets are distributed to the proper heirs and trust beneficiaries.
This is an important job that carries a lot of responsibility. Ideally, your personal representative will be someone you trust and believe to be capable of handling the task. But if you die intestate, the judge will decide who the personal representative will be, not you. If multiple relatives want to be your estate’s personal representative, it could lead to a family feud. And in the end, the person chosen may not be the personal representative you would prefer.
Estate planning gives you the power
Estate planning gives you control over the final distribution of your estate. It can help you avoid taxes and keep your estate out of probate as much as possible. Working with an estate planning lawyer can help you use estate planning to its fullest advantage.