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Probate Laws in Phoenix Arizona-Will or Trust?

If you live in Arizona and you’ve been thinking about protecting your financial assets for the future, it’s wise to understand the state’s legal processes concerning wills and trusts. James Phelps is a second generation estate planning attorney at Phelps LaClair, serving Chandler, Mesa, and Phoenix AZ. His father started the firm, and James has learned from his father’s experience. He and his qualified team do one thing really well: focus solely on estate planning. In today’s blog post we’d like to offer some sound advice for your financial future. We’ll begin by explaining the three types of probate that are part of probate laws in Phoenix Arizona.

Simply defined, probate is an official validation of a will.  For this process, the state of Arizona has adopted the Uniform Probate Code, or UPC, which was drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. The UPC was created in order to standardize laws on wills, trusts, and intestacy (when someone dies without a will). Arizona is one of 15 states that have elected to follow UPC laws.

The Uniform Probate Code lists three types of probate proceedings: informal, unsupervised formal, and supervised formal.

Informal Probate

The majority of probate proceedings in our state are informal. Informal probate is used when all parties connected to the estate are cooperative, and there are no disputes that need to be settled. Someone files an application with probate court to be the executor, or personal representative, of the estate. Once that person has been approved by the court to act as executor, they proceed in fulfilling the legal responsibilities of distributing estate assets. Their duties may include the payment of any debts and funeral expenses, taking inventory of the estate’s assets, seeing to the safety of the estate, and finally, distributing the assets to heirs when all other financial debts have been satisfied. An executor closes the informal probate proceedings by filing a final accounting with the court, and submitting a closing statement that declares all debts and taxes paid, all property distributed, and that all financial accounting has been submitted to beneficiaries.

Unsupervised Formal Probate

In this probate class, a judge will be involved, mainly for the purpose of settling any disputes between beneficiaries over the distribution of the estate’s assets. The court proceeding is required to approve certain actions taken by the executor (aka personal representative). For example, if a beneficiary challenges how distributions are to be done, or how much each beneficiary will receive, or what a will means, the judge settles those disputes.

Supervised Formal Probate

When the court steps in to supervise the entire probate process, it’s called a supervised formal probate. This means the court handles all aspects of the estate’s debts, distributions, and proceedings.

Will Or Trust?

A will requires probate by law, which automatically involves some expense for the estate because of court costs involved. Informal probate is the least expensive form of probate, but what if a will is contested? Divorce, custody battles, or immature heirs, are only a few of the reasons families can end up in either unsupervised formal probate or supervised formal probate, where costs escalate through additional court and legal fees.

If, however, you’ve had the foresight to properly establish a Revocable Living Trust, or RLT, probate can be entirely avoided. A RLT trust agreement names a person (or persons) to administer the affairs of the estate. That person serves in the same capacity as an executor, but without needing to involve the courts or go through probate.

For thirty-five years, we’ve been helping our clients successfully establish an estate plan that is tailored to their specific needs. A Revocable Living Trust that has clearly designated your wishes can spare you and your heirs unnecessary heartache and expense. For a skilled estate planning attorney who can walk you through the process of protecting your estate, call Phelps LaClair in Phoenix, AZ. We’re trustworthy, and we’ve got the experience you need.


Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (3/26/2018) verkeorg (Flickr)

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