What Happens During Probate in Arizona?

TABLE OF CONTENTS

What is Probate?

What Happens During Probate? A Step-by-Step Guide

Get Probate Help from Unbiased Options

After a loved one dies, it is imperative to assess and divide their assets quickly and efficiently. Although this process can seem difficult and overwhelming at first, it’s necessary to facilitate a smooth transfer of ownership. Otherwise, the court could get involved, and the entire process will move into supervised probate.

While probate is often necessary in Arizona, there are ways to make it much easier for you and the rest of the decedent’s family. Understanding what happens during probate can help you navigate through this relatively complex process as easily as possible. So, with that in mind, here’s a breakdown of probate – what it is and how it works.

What is Probate?

Probate is the process of validating a decedent’s will and dividing their assets accordingly. If a case moves into probate, the court must be involved on some level. Fortunately, most cases are informal, meaning the court only needs copies of various documents. Otherwise, the executor of the estate handles everything.

In some cases, the court may need to get more involved, triggering a formal or supervised probate case. When this happens, the family and executor must follow the court’s orders and recommendations, which can be more stressful and time-consuming. Here’s a quick overview of formal vs. informal probate.

Informal vs. Formal Probate

The vast majority of probate cases in Arizona are informal. This means the executor handles the distribution of assets to heirs and beneficiaries and simply notifies the court along the way. This option is much less stressful because everything stays within the family. Assuming the executor is a family member or appointed third party, there can rarely be any issues.

With formal probate, the court must get involved in settling disputes. These disputes can include questioning the validity of the will, questioning the validity of heirs, or dividing property that does not have a named beneficiary. Usually, with formal probate, the court is only involved in any disputes, while the executor handles the rest of the process.

Sometimes, though, the court may have to handle every part of the probate process, from naming an executor to dividing each asset. This option is called supervised probate. Fortunately, it shouldn’t come to this as long as the family can agree to an executor.

What Happens During Probate? A Step-by-Step Guide

The probate process can take six to eight months, depending on how quickly the executor can handle each task. Regardless, probate must stay open for at least four months for creditors to stake any claims to the decedent’s properties and assets.

Here’s an overview of what occurs during probate:

Step One: Open the Will

A decedent should have a last will and testament in place before passing. However, if they didn’t, the court would have to get involved to determine who has a claim to each asset and how the assets should be distributed.

In addition to a will, the decedent may have other accounts with named beneficiaries, such as life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and trusts. It’s also imperative that a will is validated before reading to ensure there are no disputes later on.

Step Two: Name an Executor

Usually, the decedent will name a personal representative in their will. However, if that representative is not available, the job of executor can fall to someone else within the family. Usually, spouses, siblings, and adult children can step in as executors, but the family can also name a third-party individual, such as a lawyer or fiduciary.

Step Three: Create a List of the Estate’s Interested Parties

Interested parties are individuals who have some claim to the decedent’s assets. These individuals can include children, spouses, relatives, creditors, trustees, and more. The executor must create a complete list of interested parties, including their full names, relation to the decedent, and contact information.

Many documents must be sent to these interested parties, so having a complete list makes the probate process much smoother.

Step Four: Take Inventory of Assets and Calculate Liabilities

Assets can include real estate, personal property, financial accounts, stocks, bonds, life insurance, etc. The executor must also calculate any liabilities and debts the decedent owes, such as a mortgage or taxes for the current fiscal year.

Since some debts can transfer from one owner to the next, the executor must pay these liabilities before distributing assets. Otherwise, creditors can come after heirs or beneficiaries for payment.

Step Five: Determine if Probate is Necessary

In some cases, probate is not necessary at all. For example, the court doesn’t have to get involved if all of the decedent’s assets are in accounts with named beneficiaries (i.e., a retirement account or a trust). Similarly, the family can bypass probate if the decedent’s real estate assets are valued at less than $100,000, and their personal assets are less than $75,000.

In the latter case, the family simply has to file an affidavit with the Arizona court proving the value of the assets along with a copy of the will. Afterward, the family can distribute assets according to the will.

Step Six: Seek a Waiver of Bond

To pay liabilities, an executor must put assets into a bond. However, if the family agrees that a bond isn’t necessary, the executor can file a waiver of the bond and avoid the whole process.

Step Seven: Complete Training

In Arizona, executors who are not trained fiduciaries must complete court-ordered training to handle the entire probate process. Once this training is complete and the executor receives their certificate of completion, they can submit a petition to open probate.

Step Eight: Serve Notice of Application

Before filing the probate application with the court, the executor must send a copy to all interested parties. This way, an interested party can make a dispute with the court if necessary. Assuming no one has such a dispute, the petition can be filed, and probate can be opened.

Get Probate Help from Unbiased Options

Probate is a long and complex process, so it pays to have help. Unbiased Options can assist with real estate matters during this trying time so you can focus on other tasks. Contact us today to find out more.

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