What is Probate estate administration?
Probate law involves a legal proceeding supervised by the court in which a deceased person’s property is assembled and protected so that it may be distributed to his or her beneficiaries or heirs. Along the way, property can be liquidated and legitimate bills of the deceased person will be paid. Beneficiaries of an Estate are designated by a deceased person in his or her Will. If there is no Will, the heirs of a deceased person are designated by Arizona statute. Jurisdiction over a probate estate is in the state where the decedent resided at the time of death. Because it is a court proceeding, a probate is public. The proceedings will usually take about nine months to conclude unless problems arise in the administration of the estate. The process is commenced either by the filing of a formal petition or an informal application with the probate registrar. A Personal Representative will be appointed to administer and distribute the estate. The Personal Representative is nominated by the decedent in his or her will, and is usually appointed unless circumstances exist which disqualify him or her. Where there is no will, Arizona law designates persons with priorities for acting as personal representative.
Not All Estates Need to Be Probated
Smaller estates can often avoid the usual probate proceedings. Under Arizona Law, ARS 14-3971, a small estate can be administered by affidavit. A small estate is defined as:
- Having real property assets with an equity value of $100,000.00 or less,
- Personal property with a net equity (value less liens and encumbrances) of no more than $75,000.00, or
- Unpaid wages of no more than $5,000.00.
Probate Law has certain conditions that apply to the use of the affidavit procedures as well as summary administration procedures which, if not met, could still require a regular probate proceeding. Jim Abood can advise you on these issues. Estates can also avoid probate through careful planning by the decedent. Some of the strategies used to avoid probate are:
- Use of payable on death or transfer on death accounts;
- Holding money or property as joint tenants with right of survivorship;
- Use of a beneficiary deed to transfer real property;
- Making sure your beneficiary designations are up to date for your life insurance policies and 401 K accounts; and
- Use of a properly funded Revocable Living Trust. A Revocable Living Trust is probably the most common estate planning tool used to avoid probate and speed estate administration upon a death.
Life Events Can Sometimes Trigger a Probate
Arizona has adopted a statute, ARS 14-2804, that automatically invalidates a divorced spouse as beneficiary under a former spouse’s Will or Insurance policy. Where there is no valid beneficiary under an insurance policy, an estate may need to be probated to collect the policy proceeds and distribute to the heirs or beneficiaries of the estate.
Contact our office at 602-952-9000 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be pleased to meet with you, review your circumstances, answer questions, and help you decide if a probate is needed or if there is a better option for the speedy administration of an estate.