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How Probate Works in Arizona

If you have a large estate or die without a will, your estate will go through probate after you pass. This court process can be overwhelming for your loved ones, and create conflict when it comes to distribution. Whether you’re administering a loved one’s estate or getting your own affairs in order, it’s important to understand how the process works.

The Arizona Probate Process

What Is Probate and When Is It Required?

Probate is the legal process in which the court oversees the distribution of a person’s assets after they pass away. This process may be formal or informal depending on whether the will is contested. Probate takes place in the county where the deceased person was living at the time of their death. 

However, probate is not always required when administering an estate. In Arizona, probate is always required for wills and assets that aren’t in a trust or included in a transfer-on-death deed. Probate is also required for large estates consisting of personal property valued at over $75,000 and real estate property valued at over $100,000. However, small estates can file an affidavit for a simplified probate process.

How Long Is the Probate Process?

The length of the probate process depends on the size of the estate and whether or not anyone contests the will, but probate typically takes at least a year. Here is a look at the steps of the probate process:

  1. First, the probate court must validate the will if there is one (this is why wills are always subject to probate). 
  2. Then the court appoints a personal representative, unless one was already appointed in the will. A family member can petition the court to appoint them as the personal representative if there is no will. 
  3. The personal representative administers the estate by taking inventory of the assets, filing the final tax return for the decedent, paying any taxes that are due, paying the decedent’s final bills and other debts, and then distributing the assets.
  4. If there is a will, the assets are distributed accordingly. If there is not a will, the decedent’s surviving heirs will inherit the assets according to the order of intestate succession

The personal representative has up to 30 days to notify the beneficiaries of their inheritance once the probate process starts. The decedent’s creditors must also be notified during this time period, and they will have up to four months to file a claim against the estate. Although it typically takes at least one year to carry out the entire probate process, it can take much longer in some cases, so it’s best to avoid it altogether.

How Can You Avoid Probate in Arizona?

Avoiding probate ensures that the administration of your estate is less overwhelming, less complicated, and less time-consuming for your loved ones. Luckily, there are many ways to ensure that your estate avoids probate.

1: Trusts

When you place assets in a living trust, you can still access the assets during your lifetime. After your death, the assets will automatically be distributed to your beneficiaries and avoid probate. There are many other types of trusts that avoid probate, however, a living trust is the only type of trust that allows you to continue managing the assets within the trust. 

2: Rights of Survivorship

The way you title your property can prevent those assets from going through probate. For instance, joint tenancy and community property in Arizona both have rights of survivorship. That means that after your death, the assets held under either title will automatically transfer to the other person who holds the title with you. Any other assets that are not held under either title and do have beneficiary designations will still be subject to probate.

3: Transfer on Death Deed

A transfer on death (TOD) deed is a way to designate a beneficiary for a specific asset. With a TOD, the beneficiary automatically becomes the owner of the asset after your death, skipping the probate process. A TOD supersedes a will, meaning whoever you name as a beneficiary of an asset in your will is not actually entitled to that asset if they are not the person named in the TOD deed.

Good vs. Bad Ways to Avoid Probate

While it’s essential that you avoid probate, some methods are more effective than others. Check out our video on the matter below:

Avoid Probate in Arizona with the Help of Phelps LaClair

The estate planning team at Phelps LaClair has been helping Arizona residents avoid probate for over 40 years. We can help you design an estate plan that keeps your assets out of probate and provides peace of mind for your loved ones. If you are administering an estate, we can help you through the probate process and answer any questions you may have. Give us a call at 480-892-2488 today to schedule a consultation at our Mesa or Chandler offices, or at one of our other convenient locations



Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (6/16/2022). Photo by Melinda Gimpel on Unsplash

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