Like all states, Oregon has set up some parameters around who might be considered an heir to an estate. Some individuals are automatically considered to be heirs while others are only heirs if a document, such as a will, names them so. Oregon law allows anyone to be named an heir in a will or other estate planning document.
Many relatives might be considered an heir under Oregon law even without a will in place. A spouse and children, for example, are almost always considered heirs. Other relatives that could be considered heirs include grandchildren or great-grandchildren, siblings, parents, grandparents or nieces and nephews of any degree.
Whether or not a relative inherits anything from an estate does depend on a number of factors. If a spouse and children are all present, they would likely be considered primary heirs and others might not receive part of the estate outside of a will that makes it so. If spouses and children aren't present and the nearest relative is a niece, then she might inherit much or all of the estate.
If there is no will, then estates in Oregon are administered by the Department of State Lands Estates Program. This program does take some actions to find and notify potential heirs to the estate. If there is a will or other estate planning document on file, then the DSL does not take action. In those cases, the heirs who are named by the estate document must take appropriate action to secure their inheritance.
The probate process can be extensive and is a special kind of civil law. If there are disagreements, they can turn into probate litigation, which can hold up property and businesses within the estate. Working with a civil law attorney with probate experience can be a good idea if you want to quicken any of these processes.
Source: Oregon.gov, "Heir and Beneficiary Information," accessed July 15, 2016