What is Probate?
Probate is a legal proceeding in which a deceased person’s property is distributed to his or her heirs. The beneficiaries of the estate are designated by the deceased in a will; if there is no will, the heirs are designated by Arizona law. Probate proceedings are governed by the law of the state where the deceased person maintained legal residence at the time of death as well as by the probate law of any other state where the deceased owned property at the time of death.
The probate proceeding is handled by the Superior Court in the county of the deceased’s residence. It involves the appointment of a personal representative, who, after payment of the deceased’s debts, taxes and administrative expenses, distributes the deceased’s property to the heirs or beneficiaries. Since probate is a Court proceeding, it is always public.
In Arizona, probate is a straightforward proceeding which takes six months to a year to complete, assuming no problems arise. Probate is only necessary if a person dies with:
- Real property titled in his or her name that exceeds $75,000 in equity value,
- Personal property that exceeds $50,000 in value, or
- Unpaid wages of more than $5,000 after death.
Not all estates need to be probated. The need for probate is not determined by whether or not the decedent had a will. It is determined by the type of property the decedent owned at the time of death and how that property was held. Probate is not necessary for assets held as "joint tenants with rights of survivorship" or assets governed by a contractual designation of beneficiary such as a life insurance policy or a 401(k) plan. Small estates may be handled by means of a special affidavit.
A review with your Phoenix probate lawyer will determine whether or not an estate must be probated. Probate lawyers charge an hourly fee for services. To assist you in beginning the process of probating an estate, you wish to speak to an experienced probate attorney.