Phoenix Probate Lawyers
Whether in Maricopa County, elsewhere in Arizona, or anywhere in the country, the probate process can be complicated. If a loved one has died and you have questions or concerns regarding their property or estate, your best next step is to consult an experienced probate attorney. The seasoned probate lawyers at Kadish Associates Law Group can help you navigate the probate administration process.
What is Probate?
The Arizona probate process is a court proceeding used to establish the validity of a will (or find that there was no valid will), to pay debts of the deceased that passed to the estate, to wrap up other obligations such as filing of the deceased’s final tax returns, and to distribute property to beneficiaries or heirs.
Probate is generally required in Arizona unless the assets in the estate fall below a certain threshold. If the estate includes no more than $75,000 in personal property and $100,000 in real property, there is an abbreviated and less expensive process that will allow probate to be bypassed and assets to be distributed. However, the low cap for real estate means that many relatively modest estates must be probated.
What Makes Up the Arizona Probate Estate?
With a few exceptions, all property owned by the deceased at the time of their death goes into the probate estate. This does not include property that the deceased has placed in a trust, typically a living trust created to pass property on death to their beneficiaries.
The estate includes assets such as real estate, cars, bank accounts, and securities. It also includes property with little or no monetary value, such as family photos and knickknacks. Property that is in the deceased’s name is excluded from the probate estate if the property is jointly held with another person with right of survivorship, or if the asset has a listed beneficiary, such as a 401-K plan or IRA.
What Happens in Probate?
If there is a will, the will is submitted to probate. The probate court must determine whether the will is valid. In most cases, this is a simple matter of assessing whether certain technical requirements are met. If the will is “self-proving,” as most are today, it generally won’t be necessary to call one of the witnesses to the will. Otherwise, a witness will be required to testify to the authenticity of the will.
If there is a challenge to the validity of the will, the process is more complicated. For example, an interested party may challenge the will by claiming that the deceased was not of sound mind when the will was executed, and therefore it is not valid, or that the will was forged.
To administer the estate, the court appoints a personal representative (which used to be called an executor). Normally, the person appointed personal representative in the will applies to the court for appointment. If the person named in the will doesn’t want to serve, has passed away or is otherwise unavailable, or is found by the court to be unqualified to serve as executor, Arizona law provides that others may apply.
That list includes:
- The surviving spouse
- An adult child of the deceased
- A parent of the deceased
- A sibling of the deceased
- Anyone entitled to inherit
The family and other interested parties don’t have unlimited time to sort this out. In the interest of moving the probate process forward and ensuring that debts of the estate are paid, Arizona law also provides that if no executor has been appointed after 45 days, a creditor of the estate may apply to administer the estate.
Once the personal representative is appointed and letters of administration issued, the personal representative takes charge of managing the estate property, paying expenses, satisfying debts and distributing property.
The Role of the Executor/Personal Representative
The role of personal representative can be a bit overwhelming, particularly if the person in that role has no experience administering estates. Arizona law partially addresses this by requiring a personal representative to complete a training module before being issued letters of administration. The best way to ensure that the duties and obligations of a personal representative are understood and properly fulfilled is to administer the estate with the help of an experienced Phoenix probate lawyer.
The executor is expected to:
- Obtain an EIN for the estate if appropriate
- Notify heirs and other interested parties
- Notify known creditors and publish a general notice
- Gather invoices
- Take possession of the deceased’s property, including financial accounts
- Maintain and preserve assets pending sale or distribution
- When necessary, secure appraisal of assets
- Prepare an inventory of estate assets
- Pay costs of administration
- File the deceased’s final tax return
- Pay taxes and other debts of the estate in the order of priority established by Arizona law
- Sell estate assets as necessary to pay debts or make distributions to beneficiaries
- Create a distribution plan and have that plan approved by the court
- Distribute estate assets to beneficiaries in accordance with the will
- Close out the estate
Throughout this process, the personal representative must keep careful records of all transactions, and be prepared to account to the court for any payments or transfers of property.
Who Pays an Arizona Probate Lawyer?
When an Arizona personal representative hires a probate attorney, attorney fees are paid by the estate.
Contact a Phoenix Probate Lawyer Right Away
The best time to get help from an experienced professional is when you first have questions or concerns about the distribution of a loved one’s estate, or if you have been appointed as personal representative of their estate. While a local probate lawyer can help you untangle issues that arise in an estate, the best and least expensive approach is to avoid those issues altogether. When you work with an attorney at Kadish Associates Law Group from the beginning, we can guide you through each step of the probate process, helping to ensure that common mistakes are avoided, and complying with all statutory and court-ordered deadlines and requirements.
Serving as personal representative is a big responsibility, and you shouldn’t have to shoulder it alone. Call us today at 480-967-2688 to learn more about how we can help, or fill out our contact form.