Practice Area

Estate Administration & Probate

The process of dealing with a loved one’s final affairs and assets (known as the “Estate”) after death away is far more complex and confusing than many people expect. If the Estate is large enough it may be subject to probate for adminstration and distribution of the assets. Probate laws in the state of Arizona create complicated requirements that are designed to protect heirs and creditors, but these protections lead to delays and a great deal of uncertainty about what needs to be done.

If the person who is administering an estate (often know as the executor or personal representative) makes a mistake, such as distributing assets in the wrong order, then that person can be sued by heirs or creditors. Because of the complex requirements and the potential for personal liability, many people find it necessary to hire an attorney to guide them through the estate administration and probate process.

At PayneLess™ Law, we help manage probate requirements quickly and efficiently to avoid personal liability exposure, unnecessary delays, or expense. Because the process can be confusing, we explain what is required at each step and manage many tasks directly so that you can focus on all the other issues you need to deal with during this difficult time in your life.

What is Probate?

Probate officially refers to the process of establishing the validity of a will, but it also commonly refers to all the steps that need to be taken in a court supervised process to finalize a person’s affairs after death. During the probate process, the personal representative follows legal requirements to ensure that the right people are notified about the process, bills and taxes are paid appropriately, and that assets remaining in the estate are distributed according to the terms of the will or the default provisions of the law.

If the deceased person left a will (testate), that document should name an executor or personal representative nominated to be in charge of the process. However, that person does not have any authority to act until the court authenticates the will and issues documents authorizing the personal representative to act on behalf of the deceased person’s estate. The probate process for a testate estate can be informal (less supervision) or formal (more court supervision).

When someone dies without a will (intestate), their estate must go through the probate process to distribute assets according to the state’s intestate inheritance schedule. Someone, or a creditor, must petition the court to serve as the personal representative. If more than one person wants the job, then they will each need to present their qualifications to the judge for a decision unless an attorney can help the family reach an agreement out of court.

Steps in the Probate Process

As noted above, the initial steps involve determining whether there is a valid will that meets the statutory requirements and if there is, admitting it to the probate court with the appropriate petitions for authority. Once the court authorizes someone to serve as personal representative that person will be responsible for a wide range of tasks that will require up to a year or more to complete, including an accounting of the estate assets and distributions. At PayneLess Law, we guide you through each task to ensure that all legal obligations are fulfilled properly with no wasted effort.

The process will be somewhat different in each case, but generally it requires:

  • Determining which people would be heirs under the law
  • Taking inventory of assets in the estate
  • Determining what debts must be paid
  • Notifying heirs at law, beneficiaries, and potential creditors
  • Paying bills in order of legal priority
  • Managing property in the estate and obtaining appraisals if necessary
  • Preparing and filing tax returns
  • Distributing property to beneficiaries or heirs
  • Filing a final accounting with the court

In Arizona, every personal representative may be required to undergo training and may be required to post a bond, although the bond requirement is typically waived in most wills. Our team can determine the probate requirements applicable in particular situations and help ensure that all obligations are fulfilled.

Not All Probate Goes Through Probate

The probate process deals with property that is part of a deceased person’s estate. An estate does not refer to a specific piece of real estate but to all types of property owned by someone when they die. However, some property is set up to transfer to other people automatically, and this type of property does not need to go through probate. Many types of accounts, for instance, come with a beneficiary clause that specifies that when the account holder passes away, the proceeds will go to people named as beneficiaries.

Similarly, property held in a trust will also go directly to beneficiaries. People often set up trusts so that all their property can pass directly outside of probate to save loved ones the time and effort involved in the process. Finally, property with a co-owner may pass directly to the other owner, depending on the way the ownership is structured.

Let PayneLess Law Help You Avoid Aggravation During Probate

We know that when you’ve lost a loved one, the last thing you want to deal with is trying to figure out how to follow the requirements of probate court. Let our team take that burden from your shoulders. We will manage many duties directly for you, and will clearly explain what you need to do to handle everything else. Contact PayneLess Law today to find out more about the ways we can help. 

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Monday to Friday 9 am to 6 pm