There are only a few words in the English language boring enough to put people to sleep immediately. “Probate” has to be one of the worst! So let’s call it something else…how about “prove”? It’s not boring to prove something, right? Everyone likes to “prove their point”, “prove they are right”, etc. And that is all “probate” means:
Probate means “to prove what that person wanted.”
Usually the person’s desires are proven by submitting a Last Will & Testament to the probate court, but when that isn’t available we use the government-created default rules. These rules are supposed to line up with what the average person would have wanted. A will ensures that specific desires will be followed. The probate process is used to transfer legal title of property from the person who died to the beneficiaries. Since you can’t take it with you to the grave, it must be transferred to someone or something (charity, trust, people, etc.) that is alive.
The only property that is transferred in this process is the “estate”. An “estate” is simply the entire inventory of all assets that the person owned just before he or she died. Anything owned in a different name (like in a trust, corporation, or contract) is not included in this “estate”. But beware, the IRS has a much broader definition of “estate” for estate tax purposes. The estate we are referring to here is the “probate estate” that will go through the Arizona probate court process.
Arizona has five increasingly complex levels of probate.
(1) Summary Administration
(2) Transfer by Affidavit
(3) Informal Probate
(4) Formal Probate, and
(5) Supervised Administration
The lowest levels have simpler procedures, but have limits on dollar values of the estate. The higher levels provide additional protection to the personal representative and to the beneficiaries, but cost the most money and time. The “Personal Representative” is the person who is responsible to make sure all probate laws and procedures are followed.
There are 3 major steps in every probate process:
1) Collect assets
2) pay debts and expenses, and
3) distribute property to beneficiaries
If any one of these steps is done incorrectly or neglectfully, the personal representative is personally liable to the beneficiaries for the error.
In Arizona, “probate” can also refer to types of court proceedings like trust contests, guardianships, conservatorships and protection of minors.
Things you should know about probate:
- 6-12 month average processing time
- Must publish certain notices in newspaper
- Every family member gets personal notice of the proceeding
Read a little more on the next page… and even request a free DIY probate checklist.