Arizona Probate Court and Preparation at Phoenix City HAll

Arizona Probate: Process, Steps, and Documents

Losing a loved one is never easy. In addition to the emotional strain and heartache, there are a lot of matters that must be officially settled in the eyes of the law when someone dies. This can add stress to an already stressful time. If your family member dies with an estate they intended to pass on, you may be required to go through the Arizona probate law process. Arizona probate is the legal process of petitioning for and disbursing the assets of your loved one’s estate. This can be a confusing and frustrating process. Senior Planning is here to help.

What is the Probate Process in Arizona?

Every state has its own probate process and rules. For Arizona, probate is only necessary if someone dies with assets still titled to their name at time of death. For example, if someone dies with a house still titled to them, a probate court will have to transfer ownership to the intended beneficiary.

That being said, if someone dies with an estate worth less than $75,000, you may be able to skip the probate process and go through what is called a small estate affidavit.

Although the process seems overwhelming, it is well worth it. If you don’t file for probate or go through the small estate affidavit process., individually titled assets may remain frozen in the deceased’s name. This could result in unnecessary financial loss.

What are the Stages of the Probate Process?

Read the Will

The family has to gather to read the will. It is usually good to have an attorney or an independent third-party present when reading the will. Make sure to keep the will, as the probate court only accepts an original of the document. If everyone agrees on what is outlined in the will the probate process will be much easier. 

Keep in mind that if the will is contested, you will have to go through a complex and lengthy process called formal probate.

Sometimes there is no will at all. If there is no will and the decedent was not married or was widowed, assets will be distributed under Arizona’s intestate succession laws. You can learn more about Arizona probate law by clicking the link.

Determine who the Personal Representative is

A personal representative (also known as executor) is generally nominated in the decedent’s will. The personal representative is the person who will manage the decedent’s estate during the probate process.

If there is no will or a personal representative is not named in the will, such a person can be determined by the family. The Arizona law favors a spouse, adult children, and siblings, but it could be any other qualified person. 

The personal representative will be required to fill out paperwork and prepare the documents needed for the probate process. If the person is not comfortable doing this, they may not be a good fit as a personal representative. 

Prepare an Inventory

Within 90 days of being appointed as a personal representative, the representative should officially file an inventory with the court and mail a copy to all interested parties. Inventory simply refers to a catalog of all assets owned by the decedent. 

Creating an inventory will help you determine if full probate is truly necessary or if you can instead go through what is called a small estate affidavit process. If your relative has died with more than $100,000 in real property or $75,000 in personal property, their estate must go through probate according to Arizona probate law. 

The inventory should list all property owned at time of death and the market value of each item at the date of the decedent’s death.

File for Probate

The first step is to make an admission of the will to probate court. The court will determine whether the will is valid.

The personal representative should file Form 1 – Order to Personal Representative (accessible on the Arizona court website). It lists all your duties as a personal representative.

According to the Arizona Rules of Probate Procedure, the personal representative should also file Form 11, Probate Information Form for Decedent’s Estate (which can be found on the Arizona court website). There is no need to provide a copy of this Form to the interested parties.

Keep in mind that, as stated by the Arizona court, your appointment is not effective until the Clerk of the Superior Court has issued letters appointing you as a personal representative. The next step is to get your letters of administration.

Provide all Required Notices

  • Notice of Admission of Will to Probate and a Copy of the Will (up to 30 days after the admission of the will) – You should notify all interested parties, such as heirs, that you’ve made an admission of the will and send them a copy of the will. You should also notify them they have 40 days to contest the will.
  • Copy of the Order of Personal Representative (up to 30 days after receiving the letters of administration) – You should mail a copy of this order to all interested parties, such as heirs and people that have filed a demand for notice.
  • Notice of appointment (up to 30 days after receiving the letters of administration) – you must mail a notice of your appointment as a personal representative to all interested parties.

Up to 45 days after receiving your letters of administration, file with the court a statement that you have provided the notices above. As explained in Form 1, the statement must list the name and address of each person to whom you mailed the required document, the title of each document you sent that person, and the date you mailed the document to the person.

Publish a Notice to Creditors

You must publish a notice once every seven days for three consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in the county where the decedent resided. The notice must state your name as a personal representative and mailing address. You should inform the creditors they have four months after the notice is first published to present their claims.

Pay Taxes, Claims, and Expenses

You should pay any taxes owed and settle all valid claims against and expenses of the estate.

Distribute the Assets

You should distribute the assets as stated in the probated will. If there is no will, you should follow Arizona’s intestacy laws.

How Long do you Have to Open Probate in Arizona?

The executor of an estate has up to two years from the date of someone’s death to open probate. Sometimes, this window of time can be extended, depending on specific circumstances.

Some circumstances include:

  • If a previous probate proceeding was deemed ineligible due to doubts about the person’s death, then probate can be filed at any time. The court will verify that the death occurred prior to the start of the former dismissed probate and that the executor or petitioner hasn’t delayed new proceedings unnecessarily.  
  • Probate, informal probate, or intestate proceedings may be opened after the two year window if no court proceedings occurred within the two year timeframe. If proceedings are opened in this fashion, the representative has no right to assets beyond those which are necessary to confirm title to the rightful heirs. No claims other than expenses for administration of the estate may be charged against the estate.
  • If you are contesting a will that has gone through the informal probate process, you have up to twelve months from the informal probate even if those twelve months fall outside the two year window.

How do you Avoid Probate in Arizona?

With proper planning, most assets can be transferred without probate as long as preparations have been made before the owner’s death. As mentioned above, probate is necessary when assets are still titled to the deceased at time of death. The following assets can be transferred immediately after someone’s death with proper foresight.

  • Financial accounts with a payable-on-death or transfer-on-death beneficiary assigned
  • Jointly owned assets with rights of survivorship
  • Jointly owned real estate. Also, if total real estate value is less than $100,000 the asset can go through the small estate affidavit process.
  • Retirement accounts like 401k, IRA, Roth IRA, etc.
  • Life insurance policies
  • Properly executed trusts.

Senior Planning can help prepare an estate package for you. Give us a call today if you are interested in learning more about avoiding the hassle of probate.

Is there an inheritance tax in Arizona?

As of January 1, 2005 there is no inheritance tax in Arizona. However, if you are inheriting assets from someone who lived and died in a different state you may be subject to that state’s probate laws.

What are the Inheritance Laws in Arizona?

If someone dies without a will, their estate will go through what is called intestate succession. Who inherits which assets depends on a variety of factors. See the table below for clarification:

When someone dies with children but no legal spouse:All assets go to the children.
When someone dies with a spouse but no children:All assets go to the spouse.
When someone dies with a spouse and children from that spouse:All assets go to the spouse.
When someone dies with a spouse, but has children from a different relationship:50% of separate property goes to the widowed spouse as well as 50% of community property.  

Children inherit 50% of separate property and 50% of community property belonging to their deceased parent.
When someone dies with no spouse, no children, but has living parents:Parents inherit everything.
When someone dies with no spouse, no children, and no parents, but has siblings:Siblings inherit everything.

Separate property refers to property owned by one spouse but not the other.

Community property refers to all property jointly owned by the spouses. This includes most income, wages, interest, and property obtained during a marriage.

Senior Planning can assist with Arizona Probate

As legal document preparers in the state of Arizona, Senior Planning can assist with both informal and formal probate. Formal Arizona Probate goes through a court hearing while Informal Arizona Probate is administered by a registrar rather than a judge. Although we cannot offer legal advice or represent you in court if Arizona probate is contested, we are able to do the following:

  • We will schedule an initial intake meeting where we will gather all the necessary information from you to begin a filing.
  • We prepare paperwork for your appointment as personal representative, which is the first step during the probate process. We will prepare all necessary documents. Each situation is unique so the length of time this process takes may vary.
  • Once you have been given the right to act as personal representative, we can help catalog and inventory the estate. After everything is inventoried, the inventory list will be filed with the court.
  • Once the court approves the inventory of the estate, the estate must be distributed. Managing the distribution of the estate is the responsibility of the court appointed representative. If any real property needs to be transferred, we can help with all necessary paperwork.
  • We will help file a Closing Statement with the court, which is the final step in the process. After the closing statement is submitted, a judge must make final approval before the case can be considered completely closed.