Arizona has three ways to probate an estate: informal, formal, and supervised probate. (If you are unfamiliar with probate, take a look at our Probate FAQ). But some estates don’t require probate at all, and some estates qualify for simplified probate.
Will Probate Be Necessary?
In Arizona, many types of assets don’t need to go through probate. These assets automatically pass to their new owners without oversight from the probate court.
- Living trust assets: Assets held in a living trust are not included in the probate estate. Learn more about Living Trusts.
- Property held in joint tenancy: A home, bank account, or other asset held in joint tenancy does not go through probate. Instead, the surviving owner becomes the sole owner. Learn more about avoiding probate with Joint Ownership.
- Community property with right of survivorship: Arizona is a community property state. A married couple can add a right of survivorship to any community property. All property held with a right of survivorship passes to the surviving spouse outside of probate. Learn more about Avoiding Probate with Survivorship Community Property.
- Payable-on-death bank accounts: The funds in a payable-on-death account pass to the POD beneficiary at the death of the account holder.
- Assets registered in transfer-on-death form: Arizona allows you to name a transfer-on-death (TOD) beneficiary for securities and vehicles. Assets registered in TOD form pass directly to the named beneficiary without probate. Learn more about TOD registration for Securities and Vehicles.
- Real estate transferred by a TOD deed: In Arizona, an owner of real estate can execute and record a TOD deed that allows property to go directly to the TOD beneficiaries, without probate. Learn more about TOD Deeds for Real Estate.
- Contracts: When agreements, such as life insurance policies or annuities, specify a beneficiary to receive proceeds, the proceeds do not need to go through probate.
- Retirement accounts. The funds in retirement accounts do not go through probate if the account holder designated a beneficiary. For more on this, see Retirement Plans and Estate Planning.
To learn more about how to avoid probate, see Avoiding Probate in Arizona.
Some estates can take advantage of shortcuts that avoid the full probate procedure.
Claiming property with an affidavit. Beneficiaries of small estates can claim their inheritance using a “small estate affidavit.” To use this simplified procedure, you fill out a small estate affidavit form, attach a death certificate (to learn how to obtain a death certificate, see the Arizona Department of Health Services website), and then present the affidavit to the person or institution --such as a bank or broker -- holding the asset, Learn more about Claiming Property with Affidavits.
Here are the requirements for using a small estate affidavit in Arizona:
Personal property: To use an affidavit to claim personal property:
- the total value of the estate’s personal property must be less than $50,000
- you must wait at least 30 days after death, and
- the estate must not be going through formal probate.
Real estate: To use an affidavit to claim real estate:
- the total value of the estate’s real estate must be less than $75,000
- you must wait at least six months after the death
- the court must not have appointed a personal representative
- funeral expenses and all unsecured debts must have been paid, and
- no estate tax can be due. Learn more about Estate Tax: Will Your Estate Have to Pay?
Simplified probate for small estates. Some small estates qualify for a simplified version of the probate process. An estate will qualify for simplified probate if the its value (less mortgages and liens) is less than the total value of:
- costs and expenses of administration
- reasonable funeral expenses
- reasonable last medical expenses of the deceased
- a reasonable amount of money to support the spouse and children of the deceased, and
- the value of any property exempt from creditors.
After distributing all assets, the person appointed by the court to handle the estate--the personal representative (PR) can close the estate by filing a petition with the court.
For more information on probate shortcuts, see Probate Shortcuts in Arizona.
Types of Probate
If property must go through probate, Arizona provides several options.
Informal probate. Informal probate is the simplest form of probate, used when there is a valid will that has not been challenged. The personal representative appointed by the court administers the estate with minimal court supervision.
Formal probate. The court uses formal probate to resolve an estate’s legal issues – for example, if the validity of a will is contested, there is a dispute over who should be appointed personal representative, or there are conflicting interpretations of a will.
Learn more about Contesting a Will.
Supervised probate. Some estates require supervised probate, in which the court oversees every step of the probate process. This means the PR must go to the court and ask for approval before taking any actions such as paying creditors or distributing assets. Any person who has an interest in an estate can request supervised probate. Probate courts usually require supervised probate when it is necessary to protect an inheritor, creditor, or other interested party.
The Probate Process
In Arizona, probate gets started when the person who wants to be appointed as personal representative files the will (if any) and a petition with the probate court. The court will appoint the person named as executor (personal representative) in the will, unless there's a very good reason why that person can't or shouldn't serve. If there's no will or the will doesn't name a PR, the court turns to state law, which lists who has priority for appointment. The surviving spouse is first on the list.
The court determines the validity of the will and gives the PR “letters of administration” -- an official document showing the PR’s right to manage the estate.
Next, the PR notifies inheritors and creditors about the estate administration. The PR notifies inheritors within 30 days of death, The PR publishes notice to creditors in a local newspaper for three weeks, and mails notice to all known creditors. Creditors must make claims within four months after the notice is published. Known creditors who received mailed notice can make claims within 60 days of the mailed notice, even if it falls outside the four-month period.
After notice, the PR gathers all the assets of the estate. The PR inventories, manages, and protects these assets. After creditors have been paid, the PR can distribute the assets to the beneficiaries. The PR then closes the estate by filing a petition for closing with the court.
Learn more about Estates, Executors, and Probate Courts.