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Small Estate Probate

When an individual passes away with or without a will, their estate must go through the probate process in the probate courts.  The purpose of probate is so that the will can be proven in court, if one exists, and so that the correct heirs or beneficiaries can receive the correct assets.  Also, during this process the courts ensure that any creditors of the decedent are paid in full. 

The Oregon legislature has carved out a special exception to the regular probate process in what is known as “small estate probate.”  Here, the time to completion is greatly reduced, as are the attorney fees and court filing fees.  This article will introduce you to the main points of small estate probate as seen from the viewpoint of an experienced Portland probate lawyer.

Regular Probate: Timeline and Costs

The regular probate process can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years in the Portland metropolitan area.  Probate costs are generally broken into legal fees and court filing fees.  The former varies from attorney to attorney, but the court filing fees are set.  These fees vary a bit from county to county, but as an example, we can look at Multnomah County.  In Multnomah County, the cost can range from $278 for a probate of less than $50,000 all the way to $1,176 for a probate of more than $10m.  However, as an experienced Portland probate attorney, I have found that most probates incur costs of $591 (for a probate of $50,000 to $1m) and sometimes $882 (for a probate of $1m to $10m).  There are other costs associated with probate, but the filing fees are generally the most significant cost. 

Small Estate Probate: Qualifying Factors, Timeline and Costs

As stated above, small estate probate can be expedient and also saves money, but the decedent’s estate must qualify for the small estate probate.  In order to qualify, the decedent’s estate must meet two prongs of estate value thresholds.  The first prong refers to real estate and the total value of the real estate cannot be greater than $200,000.  Please note that this is the gross value of the real estate, not the equity in the property.  The second value prong that must be met is in reference to all other property of the decedent and the cumulative value of all other property must not be more than $75,000.  This includes cash, retirement accounts, brokerage accounts, personal belongings and other tangible items.  If either of these two prongs exceed their individual threshold, then the estate cannot use the small estate process and instead must go through regular probate. 

In calculating the values of what assets counts towards the probate estate, only those assets which did not have beneficiary designations or co-ownership will count towards these thresholds.  So, for example, if a house has a husband and wife designation on the deed, then the house would not be counted towards the probate estate because it passes “outside of probate” through the beneficiary designation.  Furthermore, if a bank account or investment account had a beneficiary designation, then the assets in those accounts also would not count towards the value thresholds. 

If the decedent’s estate does indeed meet the value thresholds, then there are significant time and monetary savings to the estate.  First, the timeline of the process is greatly reduced and generally can be fully closed out in four months.  Second, the attorney fees are a fraction of regular probate and the court filing fees are also reduced significantly, with $124 being the fee in Multnomah County.   


Small estate probate is generally preferable to regular probate, so long as certain value thresholds are not exceeded.  If they are not exceeded, the estate can save significant time and money in transferring assets to the decedent’s heirs and beneficiaries.  If you have any questions regarding small estate probate or are seeking an experienced Portland probate lawyer, please give us a call or send us a message. 

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Karn was recommended to me by a friend who had worked with him in the past. He took the time to walk me through the estate planning process, addressed my many questions and at no point made me feel pressured to...

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