Dear Family Member;
Please accept my condolences on the passing of your loved one. This letter is a response to your concerns about how to settle the Estate and help you overcome the confusion you are experiencing at this difficult time. You will likely need to file a Probate with our County Superior Court. I want you to be comfortable with the process, and therefore will summarize what the Probate will likely entail.
Probate is a State Court proceeding that facilitates the administration of the Estate of your loved one. The Probate will perform several functions:
- Authenticate the Will or declare that no Will existed
- Identify legal heirs or beneficiaries of the Estate
- Approve your selection as the Personal Representative (“Executor”) of the Estate
- Identify and inventory the assets and debts of the Estate
- Ensure debts are paid to legitimate creditors
- Distribute the assets of the Estate to heirs / beneficiaries
- Ensure those affected by the Probate are kept informed
Probate is required in Arizona if the sum of personal property exceeds $75,000 (tangible property, vehicles, bank accounts, etc.), or if Real Estate assets exceeds $100,000 in net value (“equity”). There is a “Small Estate” collection process if the Estate falls below these values.
Many assets, however, are not included in the “Probate Estate” when making these calculations:
- Life Insurance, Retirement Accounts (401k, IRA), and Annuities that have valid beneficiary designations. These are non-Probate transfers and occur relatively quickly once a copy of a death certificate is provided.
- Anything owned with another “Joint Tenant” passes immediately to the surviving joint owner(s) by “rights of survivorship”. This is common in Real Estate and bank accounts.
- Non-retirement Bank and Investment accounts that have “Payable on Death” (POD) or “Transfer on Death” (TOD) instructions also pass automatically to the named beneficiary.
- Vehicles that have AZ DOT beneficiary paperwork can transfer upon death. Typically, this paperwork is attached to the vehicle title.
Perhaps you can avoid Probate if your loved-one’s property falls under these probate-avoiding categories. However, if Probate is necessary, I will help with several activities including:
- Preparing and filing the initial court pleadings to open the probate and request your appointment as Personal Representative.
- Send and publish legal notices to those entitled; namely heirs, beneficiaries, close family, and creditors
- Attend and Prepare you for any court appearances
- Receive and respond to demands from creditors received during the 4-month creditor period
- Prepare Waivers or Disclaimers for family members to sign, if appropriate
- Some formalities can be waived by family members to lower the expense and hassle of the proceedings. “Waiver of Bond” is a common example.
- Disclaimers are used when family members do not wish to receive their share of the inheritance for different reasons
- Prepare any orders the court will need to sign such as the “Order of Appointment as Personal Representative”\
- Obtain the Tax ID number from the IRS for the Estate
- Help you prepare and file any required Inventory and Appraisement reports, such as the one due 90 days after your appointment
- Prepare and record any Deeds required for transferring real estate to the appropriate heirs
- Help you file court-required Accountings showing income and expenses for the estate incurred over time
- Prepare and file the Closing Statement when appropriate
I hope this helps you understand what you will be facing in the next several months. Again, I am very sorry for your loss and will do everything I can to help alleviate this legal burden so you can focus on the needs of your family at this difficult time.
Kind Regards, Ian