What Are the First Steps to Probating a Will?

The sooner the estate executor begins the probate process, the faster the settlement will come.

Posted on November 18, 2021 by Alex Gauthier
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When your estate goes through probate court in Arizona, the court validates the will and officially appoints an executor with the task of overseeing how the estate will pass to intended beneficiaries. The process includes an inventory of your assets and debts, settlement of any applicable debts and taxes and, finally, the distribution of remaining assets to surviving heirs. Leaving behind a clear, concise will can greatly facilitate this process. The sooner the estate executor begins the probate process, the faster the settlement will come.

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Who Handles the Probate Process?

In Arizona, probate cases are often informal. In an informal probate proceeding, your personal representative (estate executor) can probate the estate independently. However, if someone contests the will or raises concerns about the executor's actions, the court may need to get involved.

Informal probate moves along much faster than a supervised probate case. However, many estate executors find it hard to get the process started. Feel free to reach out to one of our experts if you are an estate executor looking for help navigating the probate process in Arizona. Meanwhile, here is a brief guide on how to start the probate proceedings.

What Are the First Steps to Start the Probate Process in Arizona?

To begin the estate settlement process, you need to locate the will as quickly as possible and submit it to the probate court. Note that probate courts only accept original documents.

Choose or Announce the Estate Executor

Often, the will specifies who the personal representative of the deceased person will be. This is the person who will take responsibility for the estate settlement.

If there is no will or the will does not specify a personal representative, then someone can apply to fill the role. In Arizona, the law gives priority to surviving spouses, adult children, siblings and parents. However, any acceptable candidate can act as the executor.

If no one can agree on a personal representative, the court may appoint a special administrator.

Compose a List of Interested Parties

Interested parties include anyone with an interest in the estate. The list should include beneficiaries, trustees, creditors and anyone with a property claim or right to the estate. The list should include the full legal name, date of birth and contact information for each person.

Take an Inventory of Assets and Liabilities

Assets include brokerage accounts, bank accounts, real estate, personal possessions, and vehicles. Liabilities include a list of creditors such as credit card companies, mortgage companies and banks holding a loan on vehicles.

During the settlement process, the estate executor may need to liquidate assets in order to cover the cost of remaining liabilities.

Is Probate Needed?

At this point, you can determine whether you have to go through the probate process. Many assets, known as non-probate assets, do not have to go through probate. These assets include life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and assets with named beneficiaries. Real estate owned in joint tenancy also defaults to the surviving joint owners and does not need to undergo probate.

Arizona has an exemption for estates with less than $100,000 in real estate and $75,000 a personal property. The so-called small state exception allows the property to transfer to heirs without going through probate.

There are a few more hurdles to jump through prior to distributing the remaining assets in the estate. For example, if you are not a licensed fiduciary, you have to go through training in order to act as an estate executor. You may have to seek a waiver of bond proving that all interested parties are in favor of you representing the estate. The executor also needs to file the appropriate documents to apply to represent the estate.

Do You Need Help with Probate Matters?

Contact ClearState today to set up a free consultation regarding your role in an estate settlement procedure. We are happy to walk you through each step to facilitate the probate process in Arizona.