Oregon Probate Jurisdiction

One of the areas that initially confuses many practitioners is the limits of jurisdiction for Oregon Probate Courts. By and large, the jurisdiction of the probate court is the same as that of the Circuit Courts. ORS 111.075 Probate Jurisdiction Vested states:

Jurisdiction of all probate matters, causes and proceedings is vested in the county courts of Gilliam, Grant, Harney, Malheur, Sherman and Wheeler Counties and in the circuit court for each other county and as provided in ORS 111.115 (Transfer of estate proceeding from county court to circuit court).

The individual county courts that are vested with probate jurisdiction are the large sparsely populated counties of Eastern Oregon including the recently famous Harney County.  Although the code says these six counties are vested with the county court, all of Oregon's 36 counties' has a circuit court.  I don't know why this is.

 ORS 111.085 Probate jurisdiction described:

The jurisdiction of the probate court includes, but is not limited to:

(1)Appointment and qualification of personal representatives.

(2)Probate and contest of wills.

(3)Determination of heirship.

(4)Determination of title to and rights in property claimed by or against personal representatives, guardians and conservators.

(5)Administration, settlement and distribution of estates of decedents.

(6)Construction of wills, whether incident to the administration or distribution of an estate or as a separate proceeding.

(7)Guardianships and conservatorships, including the appointment and qualification of guardians and conservators and the administration, settlement and closing of guardianships and conservatorships.

(8)Supervision and disciplining of personal representatives, guardians and conservators.

(9)Appointment of a successor testamentary trustee where the vacancy occurs prior to, or during the pendency of, the probate proceeding. [1969 c.591 §5; 1973 c.177 §1]

Now that we have a general description of the kinds of matters that the probate court is interested in, what are the limits of the court's powers.  A phrase you might hear is that the circuit court is "sitting in probate."  ORS 11.095(1) describes those powers:

The general legal and equitable powers of a circuit court are applicable to effectuate the jurisdiction of a probate court, punish contempts and carry out its determinations, orders and judgments as a court of record with general jurisdiction, and the same validity, finality and presumption of regularity shall be accorded to its determinations, orders and judgments, including determinations of its own jurisdiction, as to those of a court of record with general jurisdiction.

What does this all mean?  In essence, the probate court is the circuit court.  There exist some different procedural rules that expedite the administration of the estate in uncontested proceedings but for the most part the powers of the two are the same.

Portland Probate Attorney
(503) 893-5878