You put your finger on a big problem! People who own land and have leases should have wills and contingencies to carry out their business. Her estate now owns the land. If she has no will, a family member most likely will have to step forward to administer her estate...that includes eventually transferring the land to the legal heirs (it could children or grandchildren or more distant family depending on the structure of the family). This means you may or may not have an easy time continuing the lease. You can check county records to determine if someone has opened her estate.
This is not legal advice nor intended to create an attorney-client relationship. The information provided here is informational in nature only. This attorney may not be licensed in the jurisdiction which you have a question about so the answer could be only general in nature. Visit Steve Zelinger's website: http://www.stevenzelinger.com/
In this situation, the estate is a legal entity which is created to administer the remaining debts and assets of the estate. Generally this responsibility falls to the heirs if it is not delegated in a will or other document.
Oregon's Constitution directs the Department of State Lands (DSL) to administer estates for those who die without a will and without known heirs. The Department holds estates in trust for 10 years within the Common School Fund, and if no heirs are identified within that claim period, the proceeds from the estate permanently escheat to (or become property of) the fund.
ORS 113.085 and OAR 141-35-0020 require the Department of State Lands to be notified immediately upon the death of a person when it appears there are no known heirs or a valid will. This notification is generally provided by the County Medical Examiner, but it also comes from landlords, nursing home administrators, hospitals, funeral homes, neighbors, friends, and attorneys.
Upon notification, the Estate Administrator is responsible for immediately taking steps to ensure the protection of assets and to search for a valid will and heirs. If the search is unsuccessful, the Director of the Department will be appointed in the appropriate county court as personal representative or small estate affiant to administer the estate.
Real and personal property of the estate is inventoried and sold through an oral, public auction. Creditors are paid from the estate trust account in accordance with ORS 115.125. The assets of the estate are held in the Common School Fund for ten years and are available for claim by proven heirs during this period.
If there is no claim within a certain time period described in ORS 116.253(1), the funds are permanently deposited into the Common School Fund (CSF) and are no longer available for claim. The CSF is a constitutional fund dedicated to benefit Oregon´s K-12 public schools.
Of more importance to you is how to handle the lease payments. Where you have a lease on parcel of property, your lease should not be terminated by the death of the landlord, unless the lease specifies that it does. The lease should also advise where payment is to be made. If you have concerns on this you should speak to an attorney.
You do not want the lease to be terminated for non-payment, so if it is not feasible to make the payments should unequivocally indicate your intent to make payment to the responsible party.
and At the very least you should make sure to escrow your lease payments as required.
Given the complexity involved i would recommend contacting an Oregon attorney on this issue.
Under Oregon law, she has died "intestate", meaning that she has died without a will. Our laws provide an order in which her estate is handled. If no member of her family steps up to file a petition to probate her estate, a creditor can file a petition to probate her estate. It is possible that the state Department of Human Services has a medical lien on her property. If this is the case, then the state will start a probate on her property. I would hold off rent payments until a probate has started. Once you get notice of a probate, you can catch up the rent payments to the Personal Representative. The probate should start within a few weeks to a month. If you do not hear of anything, you may contact an attorney to seek further advice. Your lease rights and obligations continue upon her death, but you dont want to pay rent to anyone purporting to act on behalf of the estate unless they are a duly appointed personal representative or trustee..