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When Do I Need to Hire an Arizona Probate Attorney?

Posted by Zach Dana on August 18, 2016

When Do I Need to Hire an Arizona Probate Attorney

When we have lost a loved one, there are emotional issues to be dealt with but regardless of that, there are also practical matters which must be addressed. One of those matters is dealing with the assets and debts they have left behind. Whether your loved one took the time to have an estate plan in place or not, there are still reasons why you would want to work with an Arizona probate lawyer. One reason to work with an attorney is if you have doubts about the validity of a will, a probate attorney can help protect your rights. However, the most common reason for working with an attorney is administering the estate even if there is a will or a trust in place.

Understanding Arizona Probate

There are three different types of probate in Arizona: with informal probate, the will has not been challenged, the court appoints a representative and there is little court supervision after the initial appointment. Formal probate is more complicated, and is used when a will is contested, when there is a conflict in the interpretation of the will or when there is a dispute over who should serve as personal representative. Some probates are called supervised probate where the estate representative cannot take any action without the approval of the probate court. This includes payments to creditors as well as distribution of assets. This may be requested by beneficiaries of the estate or by creditors and is usually used when the court feels it is necessary for the protection of an interested party.

Why an Attorney is so Important

If your loved one has a will, they named an executor of their estate. Arizona probate court refers to this person as the personal representative of the estate. They are tasked with dealing with all matters of the estate including inventory of assets, notification to will beneficiaries, notification to creditors and filing the final estate taxes. While this may seem pretty straightforward, there are specific time frames for handling these matters and specific language that must be used in notifications. Any errors could result in the administrator of the estate being charged steep fines for mismanagement of the estate; typically referred to as breach of fiduciary duty. Working with an Arizona probate attorney can help you avoid many of the potential problems you could face as you work through the probate process.

Understanding Time Frames and Notifications

Upon opening probate after death, the court will validate the will and confirm the appointment of a personal representative. This person now has several tasks which must be accomplished in a short period of time. In order they are:

  • Notification to beneficiaries: within 30 days of being appointed by the court, the personal representative must notify anyone named in the will they have been appointed.
  • Notification to creditors: while the best option is to notify creditors in writing, Arizona probate law also requires the personal representative to place a notice in the newspapers for three weeks. By law, creditors have four months to place a claim against the estate.
  • Asset management: the personal representative is responsible to inventory and value all assets of the estate. Once this has been accomplished, it is their role to manage those assets until the time of distribution.
  • Payment of creditors: all creditors who have placed a claim for legitimate debts of the decedent must be paid in full prior to distribution of assets to beneficiaries of the will.
  • Distribution of assets: once creditors have been paid in full, the personal representative is responsible for the distribution of assets per the terms of the will.
  • Closing the estate: the final tax return for the estate must be prepared and filed and the court must be given a final accounting of all actions taken by the personal representative.

As you can see, the probate process can be very complicated and without the assistance of a competent probate attorney serious delays in the process can become a problem. All notifications to beneficiaries and to creditors must contain specific language and be handled in the proper time frames; any step that is done incorrectly could result in the personal representative facing steep fines for mismanagement of the estate.

If you have been named executor, or a personal representative of an estate in Arizona, you can count on the team at Dana Law Group. Dana Law Group has more than 70 years of combined experience in estate planning law and is here to help you. Give us a call at 1-800-381-8132 or submit an inquiry to us online.