The death of a loved one brings a myriad of emotions. It is difficult to think about going about the everyday tasks of life. It is certainly challenging to concentrate on the legal issues related to probating their estate. Unfortunately, there are legal realities related to settling a decedent’s estate that cannot wait. Under Arizona probate law, before the property of a deceased person can be legally passed on to family, friends, or institutions, the estate must be probated. AZ Rev Stat §14-1101 et seq. Under the jurisdiction of the Superior Court, the decedent’s will must be proved and the estate’s debts must be satisfied. Then the property can be disbursed based on the directions in the will.
While probate is the process of settling an estate that most are aware of, in Arizona there are additional options for asset distribution that an estate may qualify for depending on its size and type of assets.
There are two primary purposes of probate. First, because debts generally are not forgiven just because someone dies, one purpose of probate is to make sure the debts that the decedent owed are paid. When the probate case is opened in Superior Court which serves as Arizona’s probate court, the decedent’s creditors are notified. The personal representative’s duties include paying all valid, timely filed claims from estate assets, as well as paying expenses of administration and outstanding taxes.
Second, the probate process is designed to ensure that the proper people receive the decedent’s property. If the decedent left a will, then at the end of the probate proceeding, the personal representative transfers ownership of estate assets to the beneficiaries as directed in the will. If the decedent did not leave a will, then the personal representative must distribute assets to the decedent’s heirs in accordance with the requirements of Arizona’s law of intestate succession. AZ Rev Stat §14-2101
In Arizona probate can be informal or formal. Informal probate is only available if there are contested issues. During informal probate, the personal representative will perform the tasks necessary to settle the estate and distribute assets without the supervision of the court. AZ Rev Stat §14-3301. The Superior Court’s only involvement will be at the very beginning of the case to open the probate case and at the end to close the estate. Most estates in Arizona are settled through the informal process.
Formal probate is required if there is a conflict during the process that requires Superior Court intervention. AZ Rev Stat §14-3401 For example, if there is a will contest where a family member or other interested party challenges the validity of the will. Another reason that formal probate may be required if terms in the will are unclear and open to conflicting interpretation.
Options for Small Estates
When estates are small, they may be eligible to take advantage of procedures that allow for the expedited settlement of the estate and distribution of assets. One procedure is the “Collection of Personal Property by Affidavit” and the other is “Summary Administration.”
Collection of Personal Property by Affidavit. Arizona has a procedure that allows beneficiaries or intestate heirs to avoid probate altogether and request distribution of property by signing an affidavit attesting to their entitlement to the property. In order to take advantage of this option, one of two conditions must be present:
- The value of all property in the probate estate must be $75,000 or less. 30 days must have passed since the death of the decedent. AZ Rev Stat §14-3971.B
- The value of all Arizona real estate in the estate must be $100,000 and all debts and taxes must have been paid. A 6-month waiting period must have expired. AZ Rev Stat § 14-3971.E.
Summary administration. Arizona also has a probate procedure that is simplified and allows for a much quicker distribution of assets for estates with minimal assets. To qualify for summary administration, the value of the decedent’s estate must not exceed the allowance in lieu of homestead, exempt property, family allowance, expenses of administration, funeral and burial expenses, and expenses of the decedent’s last illness. Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §14-3973
The executor is required to file a closing statement with the court stating that the estate met the requirements, that the assets were distributed, and that a copy of the closing statement was sent to creditors and claimants.