When someone has passed away and left behind assets, they are typically distributed according to the deceased’s last will and testament. The process of distribution is called probate, which is typically required if the deceased had more than $100,000 in real property or more than $75,000 in personal property. An executor or administrator leads the probate process and ensures the assets are apportioned according to legal instruction.
There are three types of probate in Arizona: informal, formal and supervised. Each is its own process, but informal probate is the simplest of the three because there is minimal court involvement. It is also the least costly option.
Keep reading for answers to common questions about informal probate in Arizona and when to use it.
What Is Informal Probate?
Informal probate in Arizona refers to the settling of an estate without court supervision. If the deceased left a valid and uncontested will, the court appoints a personal representative to take inventory of the estate and conduct appraisals, pay creditors, file a final tax return and distribute assets to the named beneficiaries per the terms of the will.
Because there is no court proceeding, this is the least expensive and most common probate process in Arizona.
Who Can Apply for Informal Probate in Arizona?
Generally, persons who had a familial or financial relationship with the deceased can apply for informal probate in Arizona. The Arizona Revised Statutes §14-3301 details who is eligible and can apply for informal probate:
- The surviving spouse of the decedent
- An adult child, parent or sibling of the decedent
- An heir of the decedent
- The department of veterans’ services, if the decedent was a veteran
- Any creditor, if 45 days have passed since the death of the decedent
- The personal representative of the estate as nominated by the court
- The public fiduciary, if no other person is qualified and willing to serve as personal representative
What Does the Informal Probate Application Entail?
The informal probate application is simple to file for those who qualify, but there are several required forms that can be confusing and time consuming. It is wise to consult with an experienced attorney when navigating an informal probate to ensure all relevant parties understand the process.
The application for personal representative details who is vying to be the estate’s personal representative: the name, address and priority for appointment. The decedent’s last will must be included in the application and the applicant must attest that it is valid and not subject to any revoking instruments to the best of their knowledge. Once the application is completed, the applicant must file with the Superior Court. The Maricopa County Superior Court handles proceedings in Phoenix and the surrounding area.
What Happens After a Personal Representative Is Appointed?
Once appointed, the personal representative has a number of responsibilities to complete within 90 days.
According to Arizona Probate Code, all potential beneficiaries and heirs of the estate must be given proper notice of the informal probate. After receiving notice, devisees have four months to file a challenge to the will. Any challenge will trigger a formal probate court proceeding. If any heirs or beneficiaries did not receive notice of informal probate, they can challenge the informal probate within a year of the proceeding or two years of the decedent’s death, whichever is greater. This aspect of informal probate makes it essential to handle the notification requirements properly with certified mail that can be documented.
As mentioned previously, the personal representative is also responsible for taking inventory and appraising the assets or hiring an appraiser to estimate the property’s value. The representative and, if employed, appraiser(s) must detail the property and indicate whether it was held as a separate or community property. This process includes finding any liens or encumbrances on the property, if applicable.
Once there is an established inventory of the assets, the personal representative can file the inventory with the court and send copies to interested parties or mail copies to all parties named in the will. Only when this process is complete can the personal representative distribute the assets and close the estate.
What if There Is No Will?
If someone has died without a will or with an invalid will, the estate is said to be intestate. An administrator is typically appointed to oversee the probate proceeding and act as an executor to distribute the decedent’s assets. The assets are then distributed according to Arizona state law. The administrator is responsible for receiving any legal claims against the estate and settling the decedent’s debts with creditors. He or she is also tasked with locating the legal heirs of the decedent and administering the property among them with the help of the probate court.
Find an Experienced Arizona Informal Probate Attorney
Dealing with any issues related to a family member’s passing can be difficult. Some people opt for informal probate because they believe it will be quick and inexpensive, but that is not always the case if it’s not handled properly and beneficiaries challenge the proceedings down the road. It is important to hire experienced attorneys to handle the key details of the process correctly and effectively to make sure that the difficult process is handled fairly and does not drag on longer than required.
If you are experiencing issues related to estate probate, especially those with real estate holdings, the experienced attorneys at Gottlieb Law can represent your interests throughout the entire process. Contact us today at 602-899-8188 to schedule an initial consultation or contact us today.