The Stan Butterfield law firm helps many families and loved ones after a person has died. Oregon law provides a process known as probate to wind up a person’s financial affairs after their death.


Without probate, creditors would be forced to hound the family members of someone who has died in order to get outstanding bills paid. Probate gives creditors an opportunity to make claims against a person’s estate so the decedent’s bills get paid. It also sets a time limit for creditors to make a claim and once that time is up a creditor has no right to bother a decedent’s survivors to pay bills.

Who gets what:

Probate also sets out clear boundaries to minimize conflicts among a decedent’s family members regarding who gets what in terms of the dead person’s money and property. Probate is the mechanism used to decide how to distribute a person’s money and property to their survivors.

How it works:

An attorney generally files a probate case in the circuit court for the county where the person resided at the time of their death. If a person has a valid will, probate will ensure that whatever is left of the estate after the bills are paid is distributed according to the decedent’s wishes. If there isn’t a valid will, the person’s estate is distributed according to a formula that is set out in Oregon law.

Personal Representative:

Usually the attorney works with a family member or friend that the court appoints as the personal representative to manage the estate during the probate process. (In Oregon this person is called “personal representative” but in some states they are called the “executor.”) The personal representative is the person that pays the bills out of the decedent’s money and distributes the decedent’s money and property. The personal representative is not expected to pay the decedent’s bills out of their own money.

How long does probate take to finish?

In Polk, Marion, Linn, and Yamhill counties probate takes an average of ten to twelve months. The time line is similar in most of Oregon, but can vary by county.

Why does probate take so long?

Probate requires a death certificate be filed with the court and sometimes there are delays getting that certificate issued. Once probate is filed, creditors have four months to make claims so their bills can be paid.

Some transactions take time to conclude:

  • the sale of a home
  • an estate sale of personal property
  • finishing a contract
  • tax issues
  • an ongoing lawsuit

Probate can take even longer if someone with an interest in the estate objects to some aspect of the probate. This isn’t typical, but does happen.

Probate is a little quicker now:

Fortunately, courts in the Willamette Valley have been pioneers in technology that makes some probate processes faster. So regardless of whether your county courthouse is in Dallas, Salem, Albany or McMinnville probate should be a little easier than it would have been even a few years ago.

If you have recently lost a loved one and are trying to figure out how to take care of their bills and distribute their property call Stan and make an appointment to sort things out—(503) 623-2427.