Probate is the legal process in which your final affairs are wound up after your death and your remaining assets are distributed to your beneficiaries. Arizona uses the term “Personal Representative” for the person who is responsible for managing your probate estate, but almost every other state calls that person the “Executor”.
Following your death, the Personal Representative has many duties, but the duties generally break down into three broad categories: (1) Collect your assets that are subject to probate; (2) Pay any of your outstanding bills (including estate or income taxes); and (3) Distribute any remaining assets to your beneficiaries.
Probate proceedings are overseen by the court. Sometimes your Personal Representative must appear before a judge to be appointed, but often the appointment can be made without a court appearance by simply filing documents with the probate registrar.
A typical probate must remain open for a minimum of four months. This is because Arizona law provides any creditors four months to make a claim against your estate after a Notice to Creditors is published in the newspaper. Realistically, the Notice to Creditors is never published on the same day that the probate is open and therefore the estate must be open for longer than four months. If you have assets that are difficult to sell, the probate could be open for much longer than four months.
It is typically more expensive and more time-consuming for your survivors to probate your estate than administer a Revocable Living Trust Agreement. Probate is more expensive because probate requires more attorney time, more fees to be paid to the court and newspaper publisher, and because Arizona law requires a Personal Representative to take particular steps as part of the probate of your estate.
It is not always necessary to probate a decedent’s estate even if you don’t have a Revocable Living Trust Agreement. A number of other arrangements also avoid probate. Examples of these arrangements are properly-made life insurance or 401K beneficiary designations, properly established payable on death accounts or beneficiary deeds. We can advise you whether any of these options make sense for you.
If you are going to be serving as Personal Representative for someone’s estate, we can help guide you through the process. We will assist you by preparing the documents that will grant you legal authority as Personal Representative, assist you with the proper notifications that must be made, with the final distribution of assets and related documentation, and with all of the other steps that Arizona law requires you to take.