Queen Creek Probate Attorney Serving Clients Throughout the East Valley
At Peterson Law Offices, PLLC, we assist clients with all matters relating to probate and distribution of an estate after a person dies. We know that losing a loved one is one of the most difficult experiences in life. Our goal in any situation involving an estate is to minimize the burden on you and alleviate all your concerns about the legal processes involved in settling your loved one’s estate.
Is Probate Always Required?
The term probate refers to the legal process an estate goes through after someone dies, so that estate assets can be distributed to the beneficiaries or heirs. Going through the probate process is sometimes referred to as probate administration.
In many situations, probate is required for Arizona estates. However, there are times when probate is not necessary or required.
Individuals can set up an estate plan that provides for how their assets and property will be distributed after death. In some circumstances, an estate plan can be structured to avoid probate completely. To avoid probate with an estate plan, the documents must all be drawn and executed prior to death. It is not possible to create documents to avoid probate after someone dies.
The fact that a person executed a will prior to death usually is not sufficient to avoid probate. A will can determine a lot about how an estate is administered and distributed, but the existence of a will alone is not sufficient to avoid probate.
Arizona does have an exception to the probate requirement for small estates that meet specific criteria. Those estates can be handled through an affidavit process. An estate can qualify for the affidavit process only if:
- The total value of personal property in the estate is less than $75,000; and
- The total value of real estate in the estate is less than $100,000.
In addition, there are some assets that are not included in probate, even if an estate is required to go through the process. They include:
- Assets in a living trust
- Property held in joint tenancy
- Community property with a right of survivorship
- TOD (transfer-on-death) and POD (pay-on-death) assets like bank accounts, securities, and vehicles
- Life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and annuities with a designated individual beneficiary (other than the estate)
In some cases, it may be necessary to have an experienced probate attorney review the title to assets to determine whether or not they qualify as probate assets.
Informal Probate in Arizona
In Arizona, when an estate has assets but does not qualify for the small estate affidavit process, the estate most often goes through a process referred to as informal probate. The entire process is handled through the court registrar. While it is a somewhat detailed process and takes time to complete (usually about six months to a year), it is a fairly straightforward and smooth process for most estates.
Informal probate involves a number of different steps that have to be completed, including:
- Appointment of the personal representative
- Notification of all creditors and potential creditors of the estate
- Notification of all beneficiaries or heirs
- Gathering and inventorying estate assets
- Paying creditors and expenses incurred before and after death
- Filing tax returns
- Distributing assets and property to the beneficiaries
Probate notifications and other processes have specific time requirements. The personal representative is responsible for handling the probate process and complying with all laws governing it. Because of the complex statutory requirements, the personal representative typically retains an experienced probate attorney to handle all parts of the probate process.
When you turn to Peterson Law Offices for help with an informal probate, we make sure that all the necessary steps are taken in a timely manner. We handle probate in a way that minimizes the stress on you as much as possible, while ensuring that your loved one’s estate is administered in full accordance with Arizona law.
Estates Without a Will
If someone dies without a will — referred to as dying intestate — property passes to the decedent’s heirs under the Arizona laws of intestate succession. Those laws establish a priority order under which surviving relatives inherit from the decedent. If the decedent was married, Arizona community property laws will also affect distribution of the assets of the estate.
An estate where there is no will sometimes can be administered through the informal probate process. Other times, the estate will need to go through a court process to be administered. Which process is required depends entirely on the circumstances.
If your loved one died without a will, or if you have a relative who died without a will and no one else seems to be addressing the estate, Peterson Law Offices can advise you of the legal requirements for proceeding with administration of the estate.
Formal Probate and Supervised Probate
In addition to informal probate, Arizona has two other types of probate processes: formal and supervised. Formal probate is a more extensive court proceeding than informal probate. It generally occurs if someone wishes to contest the validity of a will.
Supervised probate involves the court overseeing administration of the estate and monitoring decisions of the personal representative. It is used when the informal probate process is not sufficient to address issues that arise in the estate. The process is less involved than formal probate, but more involved than informal probate.
Schedule Your Free Consultation With an Experienced East Valley Probate Attorney
If you have been named as executor in a will, or if your loved one died intestate without a will, Peterson Law Offices welcomes your inquiry about our probate services. We will take time to discuss and understand your situation, evaluate the circumstances, and recommend the appropriate way to proceed with probate or administration of the estate.
We work with clients throughout the East Valley, including clients in 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.