If you want to have a say in where your assets go after you die, then a will should be part of your estate plan. Your will is not the only way to transfer property posthumously, and depending on your estate planning goals you might accomplish your plan with a trust, family LLC, transfer on death deed, joint titled assets, or a combination thereof. However, even if your estate plan contemplates other types of transfers, or is geared toward avoiding probate, you should still draft a will just in case one of those transfers is ineffective or you acquire property during your life that isn’t properly placed into trust or otherwise titled.
What happens if you die without a will in Oregon?
If you don’t have a will, and your assets are owned in your name at the time of your death, then the State of Oregon decides where they go, not you. Like most states, Oregon has an intestate succession statute. Dying intestate means dying without a will, as opposed to dying testate (with a will). Oregon’s default intestate succession rules may coincide with your own wishes, but then again they may not. For eample, if you’re married at the time of your death (and you’ve never been previously married with children), your spouse takes everything and you wouldn’t be able to make specific gifts to your children, siblings, parents, or friends. You also would be unable to set up a testamentary trust for your children. If you die without a spouse, your children take all of your property in equal shares. If you have neither a spouse nor any children, your parents take everything. If you have no spouse, children, or parents, then your siblings take everything. If you die without any heirs at law, the State of Oregon will simply keep everything itself, which is what we call an “escheat.” If your estate escheats to Oregon, you can’t even direct that it be given to a designated charity.
In short, the reason you should have a will is to make sure that your wishes are followed after you are gone. Even if you have a trust or other estate planning tool to dispose of some assets, you should consider a “pour-over” will, in which any asset not otherwise transferred at death is subject to the terms of your will. The alternative is to let Oregon decide for you.