How Does the Arizona Probate Process Work?
When a person passes away, Arizona law may require that the estate of the deceased person go through a process called probate or probate administration. Those terms refer to the legal process necessary to distribute the deceased individual’s property to the beneficiaries and heirs. Arizona probate administration involves completion of specific steps.
At Peterson Law Offices in Queen Creek, Arizona, we assist family members in all aspects of probate and estate administration. We can help you determine whether an estate must go through probate and navigate you and your family through the entire process. Our goals always include reducing the burden on you as much as we can, while completing all the necessary legal steps to distribute the estate.
You can read a general discussion about what assets and estates go through probate on our probate practice page. The following information provides additional details about what to expect when an estate goes through the Arizona probate administration process.
Who Can Be the Personal Representative?
When an estate goes through probate, the first formal step involves the personal representative of the estate filing a probate petition in Arizona Superior Court in the county where the deceased person resided. The personal representative of the estate has substantial duties and obligations under Arizona law. It is not a responsibility to take lightly.
Arizona law sets the priority order in which individuals may apply for appointment as personal representative of an estate. Individuals may apply for appointment in the following order of priority:
- A person named as executor in the will, or a person nominated under a power conferred in a will
- A surviving spouse who receives property under the will
- Other individuals who receive property under the will
- The surviving spouse (when there is no will)
- Other individuals who inherit under the Arizona laws of intestate succession (the law that applies when someone dies without a will), such as adult child, parent, sibling, or half-sibling
- The department of veterans’ services, if the deceased was a veteran or spouse or child of a veteran
- Any creditor, 45 days after the death
- The public fiduciary
In some situations, the law requires the personal representative to post a bond. A will may waive the bond, or it may be possible to ask the court to waive the requirement in certain circumstances.
What Is Arizona Probate Administration Process?
The specific process for probate administration depends on the value of the estate. Small estates with personal property worth less than $75,000 and real estate less than $100,000 can go through an affidavit process.
For larger estates, Arizona has two basic types of probate: informal probate and formal probate. If someone disputes any aspect of probate, including appointment of the personal representative, the estate goes through formal probate, which includes involvement of the Superior Court and court hearings.
Informal probate is the process most often used for estates where there are no contested issues. This process generally does not involve court hearings. There is a third type of Arizona probate called supervised probate, which includes more court involvement than informal probate but less than formal probate.
The type of process for your loved one’s estate depends on the amount of property subject to probate and the circumstances of the estate. Regardless of which process applies, there are specific steps and timeframes in the probate process.
Appointment of the Personal Representative
After the personal representative is identified, that person must apply to the court for appointment and initiation of the probate process. The personal representative has no authority to act until the formal appointment process is completed. Even if the personal representative is named in a will, it still is necessary to apply to the Probate Registrar for appointment and authorization to administer the estate.
Steps in Probate Administration
After the personal representative receives authorization, probating the estate involves taking a number of specific steps.
Notification to Heirs and Creditors
Relatively soon after appointment, the personal representative notifies all heirs and beneficiaries of the initiation of probate. If there is a will, the beneficiaries receive a copy of the will with the notification.
In addition, the personal representative must notify all potential creditors of the estate. All estate notifications must meet specific requirements.
Gathering Assets and Creating an Inventory
A significant step following appointment as personal representative involves gathering the estate assets and creating an inventory and appraisal of the deceased individual’s property. Sometimes, this task is relatively simple. Other times, it is somewhat complicated.
The personal representative is responsible for identifying all the assets and protecting them from harm. That may include securing a home against vandalism and even ensuring that family members do not remove items from the home before the inventory is completed.
Some assets in an estate may not be subject to probate. When collecting the assets, the personal representative needs to distinguish between assets subject to probate and those not subject to probate. Consulting with an experienced Arizona probate attorney is an essential part of making the appropriate identifications.
Within 90 days after appointment, the personal representative prepares an inventory and appraisal of the property and provides it to the heirs or beneficiaries. Other interested parties, including creditors of the estate, also receive the inventory and appraisal.
Paying Costs, Claims, and Taxes
The next stage of the process includes paying amounts owed by the estate in an order of priority established by law:
- Costs and expenses of administration (including the personal representatives’ fees and legal expenses of the estate)
- Estate expenses (such as funeral costs)
- Certain debts and taxes with preference under federal law
- Outstanding medical, hospital, and caregiver expenses of the deceased person
- Certain debts and taxes with preference under Arizona law
- All other claims
Creditors are paid according to the above order of priority, the one exception being a secured creditor (like a mortgage company). If there are not sufficient assets to pay all amounts owed by the estate, detailed rules apply to making the payments.
The personal representative also files the required tax returns at this stage.
Accounting and Distribution of the Estate
After all claims are paid, the personal representative provides a written accounting to the heirs or beneficiaries, detailing all assets and payments. The heirs or beneficiaries may ask questions, or even make objections to the accounting.
After resolving any issues, the personal representative distributes the remaining assets as provided in the will or under the laws of intestate succession. Then, the last task is filing a closing statement with the court, confirming that probate administration of the estate is complete.
In an informal probate, the probate stays open (but inactive) for a year after filing of the closing statement. In a formal probate, the personal representative must file a petition with the court to complete settlement of the estate. After settlement is complete, the personal representative is discharged from further responsibility for the estate.
Schedule a Free Consultation With an Experienced East Valley Probate Administration Attorney
The above discussion is an overview of the Arizona probate, intended only to provide a general explanation of the process. Time deadlines and other legal requirements apply to each step in the process.
When you lose a loved one, you should not have to worry about legal estate and probate issues while you grieve. Attorney Shane Peterson understands that completely. He knows Arizona law and has substantial experience in all matters relating to Arizona estates, including probate.
At Peterson Law Offices, we make sure that we carry as much of the burden as possible, while ensuring that your loved one’s estate is settled in full compliance with Arizona law. We do not charge for your first consultation and welcome inquiries from clients throughout the East Valley, including Queen Creek, San Tan Valley, Gilbert, Mesa and Chandler. Schedule your free initial consultation by calling 480-878-5998 or using our online contact form.