Published on:

My Relative Passed Away. What do I do?


A patron came in who had lost her father. She knew she needed to do something about his estate but had no idea where to start. A friend had told her she might not need to file anything with the court. She wanted to know what to do and if the court needed to be involved.

First, we pointed her to resources, such as law dictionaries, to explain a couple basic terms.

  • Probate is the court process of appointing, and overseeing, someone to administer an estate, identify heirs, inventory assets, pay debts, and distribute the remaining property. This process is handled by the Probate Department of the court.
  • The person who handles the administrative duties can have several titles: executor, estate administrator, or personal representative.

Then we shared several resources to help understand probate. A good starting place is The Executor’s Guide by Nolo Press, a self-help book that can also be found at many public libraries. It explains the general legal framework and process, and highlights some of the differences between the states. Nolo books can also be accessed online through the State of Oregon Law Library.

For information more specific to Oregon, we suggested a few websites: Oregon Legal Aid’s information on Wills and Estates, the Oregon State Bar’s page What is probate?, and their book Legal Issues for Older Adults.

We also told her the Washington County Circuit Court’s Probate Department has some information, including a Small Estate Affidavit. This only applies to estates meeting certain qualifications and we suggested she read the instructions for more information. If you are in another county you will need to check the probate department of your local court.

We showed her Administering Oregon Estates, a practice guide by the Oregon State Bar. We explained she could use it as a reference for specific questions about Oregon probate law, including small estates. This should be available through your local county law library – you may even ask if they can provide remote access.

Then we explained that when she has an idea of what to do, Stevens-Ness publishes some legal forms for Oregon, including some probate forms.

Last we reminded her that only an attorney can advise her of how the law applies to her situation. We recommended resources to help find a lawyer if she felt like getting legal help.


Contact Information