Does an estate need to be probated in Arizona?

In Arizona, an estate goes through probate court if someone dies and leaves behind assets that don't transfer automatically to their heirs.

Posted on November 20, 2021 by Alex Gauthier
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It's important to understand the rules surrounding probate in Arizona. This can help guide you if you are currently going through estate planning. It can also help you and your family members understand the estate settlement process. Specifically, it's important for heirs, survivors and other interested parties to understand when probate court is necessary.

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When Does an Estate Go Through Probate in Arizona?

In Arizona, an estate goes through probate court if someone dies and leaves behind assets that don't transfer automatically to their heirs. If you leave behind this type of asset, the title remains in your name and your beneficiary will have to go through probate court to obtain a transfer of title.

Which Assets Are Subject to Probate?

Here are some assets that could be subject to probate court in Arizona:

  • Individual bank accounts
  • Individual brokerage accounts
  • Real estate held in the deceased's name or as tenants in common
  • Personal property such as jewelry, art and vehicles

A judge transfers title ownership through probate court for these assets. If the decedent has a will, probate assets can typically transfer smoothly to intended beneficiaries with the help of an estate executor.

What happens if you die without a will?

If someone dies intestate, or without a will, assets are passed to legal heirs using Arizona's probate laws of succession. This can be a lengthy process that leaves family members with little control over the estate settlement.

Intestacy laws in Arizona

Arizona intestacy law gives preference to your surviving spouse and children (ARS 14-2102). If you die without leaving behind a spouse or child, your estate can pass to your parents, siblings or extended living family members. (ARS 14-2103). In rare cases, if there are no living family members, the state may take possession of the assets. (ARS 14-2105).

Here Are Some Exceptions to Arizona's Probate Court Laws

It's important to ensure that you leave behind a valid will to avoid delays and confusion. There are also ways to simplify an estate in order to shorten probate or avoid it altogether, and there are certain assets that don’t have to go through probate at all. Here’s a rundown of strategies on avoiding probate:

  • Living trust assets: You can set up a living trust to protect assets from probate.
  • Property held in joint tenancy: Bank accounts, real estate and other assets held in joint tenancy are not subject to probate court. Instead, surviving co-owners inherit these assets.
  • Right of survivorship: In a community property state such as Arizona, a married couple can hold community property in a right of survivorship agreement. When one spouse dies, the property transfers automatically to the surviving spouse.
  • Payable-on-death bank accounts: You can set up your bank accounts to automatically transfer to a POD beneficiary if you pass away.
  • Transfer-on-death form: If you leave behind vehicles and securities, you can pass them onto a beneficiary via a transfer-on-death (TOD) form.
  • Transfer-on-death deed: You can record a transfer-on-death (TOD) deed for real estate you own to pass onto a TOD beneficiary without going through probate.
  • Retirement accounts: As long as you designate a beneficiary, your retirement accounts will not go through probate.

Comprehensive Estate Settlement Services

Do you still have questions about what assets go through probate? For comprehensive estate planning and estate settlement services, contact ClearState for a free consultation today.