Estate Planning

Is a Handwritten Will Valid in Oregon?

Is a Handwritten Will Valid in Oregon?


The short answer is no.  Wills that are handwritten and not witnessed are not recognized as valid in Oregon.  A handwritten will that is witnessed by two individuals will be considered valid.  

I have written more about about the basics of estate planning in the following articles:

  1. Basics of an Oregon Estate Plan (Part 1)
  2. Basics of an Oregon Estate Plan (Part 2)

  3. Basics of an Oregon Estate Plan (Part 3)


Portland Probate Attorney
(503) 893-5878

Basics of an Oregon Estate Plan (Part 1)

Part 1.  What is a Will.

This is the first article in our basics of estate planning series.  In this article, we will explain what a Will is, what it can be used for and what it can’t do. 

Part two of our series is Part 2. What is a Living Trust.

What is a Will? 

A Will allows someone to decide how they want their assets divided after they have passed away.  Any person who is 18 years or older or who has been lawfully married or who has been emancipated, and who is of sound mind, may make a Will.

What happens if I die without a Will in Oregon?

If you die without a Will your assets are distributed according to the laws of Oregon.  Inheriting without a Will is called intestate succession and we have an article that diagrams some of the common ways your assets may be distributed. (Intestate Succession in Oregon)

Benefits of a Will.

There are many benefits to creating a Will.  At the minimum, a Will should appoint a personal representative and waive bond.  A Will can allow you to make a charitable gift, create a testamentary trust for your children, or even provide for your pets.

Formalities of making a Will.

There are several formalities that you need to follow in order to have a valid Will in Oregon.  The most important are that they are in writing and that two witnesses watch you sign your Will.

Does a Will avoid probate in Oregon?

A Will does not avoid probate but it can make the administration of probate cheaper and easier.  Your Will allows you to appoint a Personal Representative  to manage your estate and you will be able to waive bond for the personal representative.  Just doing those two things will save your estate money and move your estate through the probate court more quickly.

Elective Share.

While your Will ordinarily controls how you distribute your assets, your spouse has a right to claim part of your estate.  You are not required to provide for anyone in your Will and Oregon doesn’t allow anyone to claim a portion of your estate except for your spouse.

I have no money.  Should I make a Will?

How you distribute your assets is only part of what your Will does.  Your Will also allows you to make arrangements for your minor children. 

How do I change my Will?

You can make changes to your Will be adding something called a codicil.  A codicil requires the same legal formalities as a creating a Will. 

How do I revoke my Will?

Your Will may be revoked by creating another Will or by the physical act of destroying the Will with the intent to revoke it.  Certain acts automatically revoke your will.  If you get married or divorced, you should consult with an attorney to see how it affects you.  Getting married may revoke a previously written Will.  Getting divorced in Oregon revokes portions of your Will that benefit your former spouse.  If you have or adopt children after executing your Will, your Will may be modified by state law to provide for those children.


If would like to learn more about how to plan your estate, visit our practice page or search the blog on the right.  You can also sign up for our newsletter and have estate planning tips delivered to your email.




Portland Probate Attorney
(503) 893-5878

Oregon Estate Planning Timeline

How and When to Plan Your Estate

You can create a will anytime after you turn 18 in Oregon.  This timeline gives you some guidance on what you should consider and when.

Oregon Estate Planning Timeline

Many people put off estate planning until later in life.  Here are some milestones that you should consider.

Oregon Estate Planning Timeline 2
Portland Probate Attorney
(503) 893-5878

2016 Oregon Estate Tax Rates

The Oregon Estate Tax rate for 2016 is left unchanged from 2015.

Taxable Estate Equal to or more than: Taxable Estate less than: Tax rate on Taxable Estate amount more than column 1
$1,000,000 $1,500,000 $0 + 10%
1,500,000 2,500,000 50,000 + 10.25%
2,500,000 3,500,000 152,500 + 10.5%
3,500,000 4,500,000 267,500 + 11%
4,500,000 5,500,000 367,500 + 11.5%
5,500,000 6,500,000 482,500 + 12%
6,500,000 7,500,000 602,500 + 13%
7,500,000 8,500,000 732,500 + 14%
8,500,000 9,500,000 872,500 + 15%
9,500,000 1,022,500 + 16%
Ask us a question.
We can help you minimize your oregon estate taxes.
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Portland Probate Attorney
(503) 893-5878

Elements of an Oregon Estate Plan

What is Estate Planning?

There is much confusion about what estate planning is and what you actually need to do.  I will go through some of the most common estate planning tools, how they work and when they are useful.

1. The Do-Nothing Option

This is probably the most common estate planning technique in Oregon and rarely is it ideal.  If you die in Oregon without a will, your assets will be distributed by the laws of intestate succession.  These laws are the Oregon Legislature's best guess of how most people would have wanted their assets divided among their heirs.  Typically your assets will be inherited by your surviving spouse or equally among a class of heirs.  If you are more interested, I have a full post dedicated to the common intestate scenarios linked here.  You can also learn more about Oregon Probate on my practice area page.

2. Last Will and Testament

The basic Will is the simplest and most well known estate planning tool.  They are generally assumed to have been invented in Ancient Greece around 600 BC.  (Wikipedia has an article on the History of Wills.)   At its simplest, a Will appoints someone to manage your estate after your death and provides them instructions on how to distribute your assets.

In Oregon you must have "testamentary capacity" in order to create a will.  Testamentary capacity defined:

ORS 112.225 Who may make a will

Any person who is 18 years of age or older or who has been lawfully married, and who is of sound mind, may make a will.

Now, there are several formalities that you have to follow in order have a duly executed will.  I often hear complaints about these formalities.  It is best to think about these formalities not as burdens but rather as quality control measures that make sure people don't steal from you after you die.

Oregon outlines the formalities of a duly executed Will in the ORS.

112.235 Execution of a will

A will shall be in writing and shall be executed with the following formalities:

(1) The testator, in the presence of each of the witnesses, shall: (a) Sign the will; or (b) Direct one of the witnesses or some other person to sign thereon the name of the testator; or (c) Acknowledge the signature previously made on the will by the testator or at the testators direction. (2) Any person who signs the name of the testator as provided in subsection (1)(b) of this section shall sign the signers own name on the will and write on the will that the signer signed the name of the testator at the direction of the testator. (3) At least two witnesses shall each: (a) See the testator sign the will; or (b) Hear the testator acknowledge the signature on the will; and (c) Attest the will by signing the witness name to it. (4) A will executed in compliance with the Uniform International Wills Act shall be deemed to have complied with the formalities of this section.

There is much more to cover on the topic of Wills but this post is meant as an overview for estate planning.

3. Revocable Trusts

Sometimes marketed a "living trusts" or "loving trusts," a revocable trust is a contract with yourself that you can "revoke" if you change your mind.  I've written about revocable living trusts in Oregon before but I will recap their uses here as well.

Many people have difficulty understanding how a revocable trust works so I've diagrammed it below.

Copy of Living Trust
Copy of Living Trust

The two most common uses for revocable trusts in estate planning are the avoidance of probate and conservatorship.

Avoiding Probate

The most common reason why probate proceeding are started in Oregon is because the titled property of the estate exceed the statutory amounts for small estate proceedings.  (I will go into small estate proceedings later.)  What that means in non-lawyer speak is that your home is worth more than $200,000.  There are other ways to exceed the small estate limits but for most people it is the value of their home.

So, by placing your home and other assets into a revocable trust you can avoid probate all together or be able to settle your estate by Affidavit of Claiming Successor.  When done properly, a revocable trust can avoid several thousand in probate administration fees and save months of time.  Revocable trusts don't avoid estate taxes or shield assets from creditors.  There are other tools that can be used to minimize taxes and protect assets and I will discuss those in a later post.

Avoiding Conservatorship

Conservatorship is a kind of protective proceeding in Oregon where the court appoints a conservator to manage the assets and finances of a protected or incapacitated person.

ORS 125.005 (3) defines financially incapable:

Financially incapable means a condition in which a person is unable to manage financial resources of the person effectively for reasons including, but not limited to, mental illness, mental retardation, physical illness or disability, chronic use of drugs or controlled substances, chronic intoxication, confinement, detention by a foreign power or disappearance. Manage financial resources means those actions necessary to obtain, administer and dispose of real and personal property, intangible property, business property, benefits and income.

As people aged they sometimes experience diminished mental capacity or conditions that make it difficult to manage their financial affairs.  In these instances it may be necessary to go to court to establish a conservatorship and appoint a conservator.  These can be expensive and time consuming proceedings so it is best to avoid them.

A revocable trust can avoid conservatorship by appointing a successor trustee if you become incapacitated.  You can provide instructions in your trust on who you want to manage it and how you want it managed in the event you become incapacitated.

4. Advanced Medical Directives and POLST

For many people how they die is often more important than what happens to their belongings.  I've written extensively on Advanced Medical Directives and Substituted Healthcare Decision Making before and how a person's faith influences medical decision making.

In a nutshell, Advanced Medical Directives allow you to appoint a Healthcare decision maker and leave instructions for end-of-life treatment.  POLST (Physicians Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment) all you to decide what treatment you want if you have a terminal disease.  I encourage all of my clients to complete their Advanced Medical Directives and POLST if they do no other estate planning.  I will often hear from a family member who had to guess at their loved-one's desires for medical treatment in the ICU and are traumatized by the experience.

If you have any questions about Advanced Medical Directives, please follow the links above or leave a comment.

5. Virtual Asset Instruction Letter

This is a new area of estate planning that deals with virtual assets and how you would like them handled after your passing.  For many of us the majority of our communications and photographs now exist on the servers of Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft.  I wrote about this before (What is going to happen to your Facebook account when you die?)  I've also written about Grieving Online.

How these accounts are handled after your death depends on the Terms of Service of each of the companies.  What is important is that you decide who you want to have access to these accounts and what you want them to do with them.  Facebook allows you to add a legacy contact to manage your account or to delete your account after your death.  Below is a snip from the Facebook Legacy Account Page.  Other companies are creating similar programs to help you manage your accounts if you die.

facebook memorialization
facebook memorialization

The Virtual Asset Instruction Letter (VAIL) can work alongside your other estate planning documents and provide guidance to the person administering your estate.  The VAIL can contain the passwords and logins for your accounts along with directions.  Logins and access to financial institutions should be controlled by the Will or Trust but you may want to list them here as well but that is not what VAILs are typically designed to manage.

I would use a VAIL to give instructions about who you want to have copies of your emails or photos after your death.  For example, you may have quite a bit of email correspondence with your grandchildren in a gmail account and you may want to provide copies of those emails to them.

For those of you who have monetized Youtube, Instagram or other accounts I would contact an estate planning attorney to advise you on the managing those accounts.

6. Beneficiary Designations and Payable on Death

Certain property does not need to pass through probate in order to be transferred to your heirs or devises.  Most often this non-probate property are accounts that allow you designate a beneficiary.  These accounts are basically contracts between you and the company holding your account.  When you pass away the company will pay or allow access to the account without going through probate.

I explain beneficiary designations and non-probate property in more detail in a previous post.   This most important thing to remember is to keep your beneficiary designations up to date and to review them regularly.

7. Specialty Trusts

There are many other specialty trust that are used in estate planning.  The most common are Special Needs Trusts, Gun Trusts and Pet Trusts.

Special Needs Trusts

Special Needs Trusts are designed to hold property for a disabled person while at the same time allowing them to utilize government benefits.  When creating a special needs trust, great care should be taken so that any government benefits under medicaid or SSI are not disrupted.  I will discuss Special Needs trusts in more depth in a later post.

National Firearm Act Gun Trusts

These are trusts created to hold and purchase weapons regulated under the National Firearms Act.  The purpose of a Gun Trust is to eliminate much of the burden of owning and transferring what are known as Title 2 devices (machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, grenade launchers, etc.)  I think most of the marketing around gun trusts is based on fear mongering but there are some legitimate uses if you have NFA Firearms or a large/unique firearm collection.

Pet Trusts

A pet trust provides for the care of your pet if you are to die or become disabled.


I hope you have found this overview of common estate planning tools helpful.  This is by no means an exhaustive list of options nor is it meant as advice for your situation.

If you have any questions please search the blog, contact me or leave a comment below. As always, please read the Disclaimer in the sidebar before commenting. It is there for your protection.

Portland Probate Attorney
(503) 893-5878

Intestate Succession in Oregon

What happens when you die without a will

When a person dies without a Will in place, the Oregon Probate Law (Intestate Succession and Wills) determines how that person’s estate will be distributed.  The diagrams below will help you understand how the estate will be divided. This is not a complete list of scenarios but should give you a good idea of what can happen.  In real life, families can be incredibly complicated and who inherits what can be equally as complicated.

Surviving Spouse and Children

Surviving Spouse.jpg

No Surviving Spouse and Surving Children

When there is no surviving spouse, the Estate is distributed evenly between the children.


Children from a Previous relationship and a surviving spouse  In this situation, the surviving spouse receives half of the estate while the Decedent’s children receive the other half distributed evenly.   Former spouse receives nothing.   

Children from a Previous relationship and a surviving spouse

In this situation, the surviving spouse receives half of the estate while the Decedent’s children receive the other half distributed evenly.   Former spouse receives nothing.


Parents Share when Decedent has no children or spouse     
           When a Decedent passes with no Spouse or Children, the surviving Parent will inherit the estate.   

Parents Share when Decedent has no children or spouse

When a Decedent passes with no Spouse or Children, the surviving Parent will inherit the estate.


No Heirs, unable to locate heirs or heirs refuse

No Heirs, unable to locate heirs or heirs refuse


There are many other situations that can arise with families.  For example, parents can sometimes forfeit their share of estate because of neglect or abuse.  If the heir murdered or abused the person who died, Oregon law can prevent them from inheriting property.  There are also rules for grandparents inheriting property and for individuals inheriting property to two lines of relationships.

What appears first as simple can quickly become complicated when blended families, remarriages, not remarrying and other decisions we make throughout life get added to the mix.You can learn more about Oregon Probate on my practice area page. 

If you have any questions on how your property will be inherited after you pass, feel free to contact me.  

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Portland Probate Attorney
(503) 893-5878