Arizona has three ways to probate an estate: informal, formal, and supervised probate. (If you are unfamiliar with probate, take a look at our ). But some estates don't require probate at all, and some estates qualify for simplified probate.
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.
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:
Real estate: To use an affidavit to claim real estate:
Simplified probate for all estates. Some small estates qualify for a simplified version of the probate process, called summary probate An estate will qualify for simplified probate if its value (less mortgages and liens) is less than the total value of:
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.
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 personal representative 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.
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 personal representative "letters of administration," an official document showing the PR's right to manage the estate.
Next, the personal representative notifies inheritors and creditors about the estate administration as part of the executor's job. The personal representative notifies inheritors within 30 days of death. The personal representative publishes a 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 the mailed notice can make claims within 60 days of the mailed notice, even if it falls outside the four-month period.
After notice, the personal representative gathers all the assets of the estate. The personal representative inventories, manages, and protects these assets. After creditors have been paid, the personal representative can distribute the assets to the beneficiaries. The personal representative then closes the estate by filing a petition for closing with the court. Arizona Revised Statutes §14-03801
Learn more about Estates, Executors, and Probate Courts.