Estate Administration Attorney in Arizona
Arizona Estate Administration Lawyer
When someone close to you passes away, estate settlements and legal obligations are likely the last things on your mind. Although you are grieving, the responsibility of handling your loved one’s final wishes is still very important.
You may be uncertain about where to begin when this task falls to you. Perhaps the departed left a will that seems vague or confusing. Perhaps your loved one never prepared a will.
No matter how clear your loved one’s final wishes are or how uncomplicated the loved one’s assets may be, estate administration is a time-consuming duty. The paperwork is confusing, and the legal deadlines are strict. Family disputes may muddy the waters, making this painstaking process simply painful.
Are you currently facing the weighty responsibilities of serving as a Personal Representative? Turn to the skilled, compassionate estate administration lawyers of Brown & Hobkirk, PLLC. We are here to help you navigate this difficult process.
For more than 20 years, the legal team at Brown & Hobkirk, PLLC has guided thousands of clients through estate planning, probate proceedings and trust administration. Let us put our years of experience to work for you, so you have time to mourn and focus on what matters.
What to Do When Someone Dies in Arizona
If you are mourning the loss of a family member or close friend, you might have a hard time managing the deceased’s final affairs. You may be facing these issues for the first time. Several important matters should be arranged promptly:
- Notifying immediate family or next-of-kin
- Making short-term plans to secure property, provide pet care, forwarding mail and closing digital accounts
- Notifying other family and close friends
- Notifying employers, creditors and financial institutions
- Making funeral, cremation, or other remembrance arrangements
- Publishing an obituary online or in a local paper
- Locating and identifying a Last Will and Testament, if possible
- Ordering death certificates from the Arizona Department of Health Services
Duties of the Personal Representative
When most people prepare their wills, they name a Personal Representative to administer their estate and manage other final affairs. A Personal Representative, commonly known as an “Executor” in other states, handles many important obligations.
One of the key steps in handling someone’s estate after death involves validating the Last Will and Testament in court before distributing assets.
The process for validating an existing will in Arizona is called “probate.” During probate proceedings, the nominated representative files the will with a local probate court and verifies the will as the true, final wishes of the deceased. After a will is validated, the proposed personal representative named in the will may be formally appointed to administer the estate.
Arizona law gives personal representatives two years from the date of the decedent’s passing to initiate probate proceedings. Personal Representatives have no authority to administer assets or manage estates until they are appointed as a lawful personal representative by an Arizona probate court.
What to Expect in the Probate Process
The probate process takes place in Arizona’s probate courts. The process involves the appointment of a personal representative to manage the estate’s debts and assets. Whether a person dies with or without a will, Arizona recognizes three ways to probate an estate:
- Informal probate – Informal probate is the most common type in Arizona. This kind of proceeding does not require court appearances and is used for estates without contested issues. Only certain individuals are eligible for informal probate proceedings. Those individuals include spouses, children or nominated Personal Representatives.
- Formal probate – When wills are controversial or contested, formal probate proceedings may be necessary. Formal probate is overseen by a judge. The proceedings may address the validity of wills, the appointment of personal representatives, and the distribution of assets.
- Supervised probate – Supervised probate is the traditional method of conducting probate in Arizona. This type of probate involves more court supervision than informal probate but less involvement than formal probate.
After the court validates the will and appoints a personal representative, that person must complete specific duties to finish probating the estate. Those duties include:
- Obeying court orders and dealing with beneficiaries in good faith
- Notifying heirs and creditors of the estate
- Establishing a bank account for the estate
- Identifying and creating an inventory of assets
- Securing any real estate or other assets from harm
- Appraising any real estate or other valuable property
- Providing appraisals to beneficiaries and creditors within 90 days
- Paying costs, claims, and taxes on behalf of the estate
- Preparing a final income tax return for the deceased
- Distributing remaining assets after all debts are paid
- Providing a written account of all asset distributions and payments
- Filing a closing statement in court when administration is complete,
Is It Possible to Skip the Probate Process?
If an estate’s value is below a certain threshold, Arizona law allows for the probate process to be skipped altogether. If an estate contains less than $100,000 in real estate assets or less than $75,000 in personal property, the law allows beneficiaries and creditors to use a simplified administration process. The estate values are calculated once all funeral expenses, unsecured debts and outstanding taxes have been paid.
In some cases, certain assets are eligible to skip probate because they are managed by different beneficiary policies or are not held solely in the name of the deceased. Examples of these assets include:
- Personal property or assets named in a revocable trust
- Real estate owned jointly with a right of survivorship
- Real estate held as community property with a right of survivorship
- Life insurance policies with designated beneficiaries
- Retirement accounts with designated beneficiaries
- Financial accounts with “Payable on Death” or “Transfer on Death” clauses
What You Need to Know About Trust Administration
Many families use trusts, because assets held in a trust do not go through probate. A trust that is set up by a living person is called a living trust or revocable trust.
The administration of a living trust requires no court supervision. The process is generally more private and takes less time and money than a probate proceeding.
If a person establishes a trust to manage his or her estate, they nominate a person called a trustee to execute the person’s final wishes. When the creator, or trustor, of a revocable trust dies, the trust becomes irrevocable, or final. In Arizona, a trustee has duties similar to those of a Personal Representative.
Trust administration is often simpler than probate, but it still involves considerable paperwork and fiduciary responsibilities. The responsibilities include:
- Executing the instructions provided in the trust
- Transferring all assets as specified by the trust
- Interacting with trust beneficiaries in good faith
- Keeping all trust assets separate from personal accounts
- Managing, investing, and diversifying trust funds
- Keeping diligent and thorough records of all trust dealings
While trusts have many advantages over a will, they can also present certain drawbacks. For instance, any disputes that arise over asset distribution can be difficult to resolve without court supervision. Also, creditors may take longer to file claims against an estate left in trust.
In probate, creditors only have four months to file a claim. With trusts, creditors may have up to one year to file a claim. That can create a long waiting period before trust property can be distributed. However, an experienced Arizona estate administration lawyer can help expedite and simplify this process.
Understanding Beneficiary Laws in Arizona
In some cases, a person may die without preparing a will. In other cases, a deceased’s will may contain vague or confusing language, leading a court to deem the will invalid. When either event occurs, the deceased may be considered intestate, resulting in the application of Arizona’s intestacy laws.
Arizona’s intestacy laws determine who will serve as a personal representative and who will receive assets from an estate in the event of intestate succession. The law provides the following order of priority as to which individuals may be considered for the role of the personal representative:
- The surviving spouse of the decedent
- Other surviving heirs of the decedent, such as adult children or siblings
- The department of veteran’s services, if applicable
- Any creditors, if 45 days have passed since death
- The public fiduciary, if no one else comes forward
Under Arizona laws, a court-appointed personal representative who administers an estate is responsible for paying debts and distributing assets. These laws do not take into account the wishes of the deceased. Instead, assets are distributed first to any creditors and then to surviving family members in this order:
- Any surviving spouses and children
- Parents, siblings, and half-siblings
- Nieces and nephews
- Grandparents and their descendants
- Great-grandparents and their descendants
If none of the above-listed relatives survive the deceased, the property is transferred to the ownership of the state.
Problems That Can Arise During Estate Administration
Estate administration is no easy task. The longer that task takes, the more opportunities there are for problems to arise. Common issues the attorneys at Brown & Hobkirk, PLLC have seen in estate administration cases include:
- A nominated Personal Representative is unable or unwilling to administer the estate. In some cases, the person named in a will as the personal representative has died, become incapacitated or is otherwise unwilling to serve as Personal Representative. In these instances, the court must appoint a new personal representative.
- The assets of an estate cannot be located. Sometimes, tracking down bank accounts, real estate or other personal property can be difficult.
- The value or distribution of an estate is in dispute. If the value of an estate is in dispute, it can be difficult to assess taxes or determine how assets should be distributed. All of the estate’s money, property and other assets must be accounted for.
- Creditors make unexpectedly large claims against the estate. In some cases, the state may attempt to recover money distributed for benefits such as Medicaid.
- The will is contested by family, heirs, or beneficiaries. Some wills have multiple versions, confusing language or terms that seem to be inappropriate or fraudulent. These discrepancies can lead to vigorous disagreements and significant delays.
- A nominated Personal Representative is not appropriately fulfilling their duties. A personal representative has many significant legal obligations. If heirs or beneficiaries suspect the Personal Representative is not meeting those obligations, they may file damage claims in court.
How Our Attorneys Can Help Your Family During This Time
As you have seen, various legal complications can affect the handling of final affairs and estate administration in Arizona. An estate administration lawyer from Brown & Hobkirk, PLLC can help during this difficult process by:
- Managing important legal documents and deadlines
- Interacting with beneficiaries and creditors on your behalf
- Identifying and securing personal property and assets
- Creating an inventory of valuable assets
- Scheduling and obtaining real estate appraisals
- Assisting with the payment of outstanding bills or debts
- Assisting with the preparation of final income tax returns
- Managing the bank account set up for the estate
- Transferring assets to heirs, family members, and beneficiaries
- Preparing and filing closing statements in court
Talk to an Arizona Estate Administration Lawyer Now
If you decide that the representation of an Arizona estate administration attorney is in your best interests, the legal team at Brown & Hobkirk, PLLC is ready to help. For more than two decades, we have helped clients in Scottsdale, Phoenix, Chandler, and Tucson navigate the complexities of probate proceedings and estate administration.
We’ll provide personalized, one-on-one attention throughout the process to ensure all of your legal needs are met. Contact us today for a confidential consultation. Call us or fill out our convenient online form.