Arizona Probate: An Overview

Arizona provides a range of procedures and shortcuts for probate.

Updated by , Attorney · George Mason University Law School

Arizona has three ways to probate an estate: informal, formal, and supervised probate. But some estates don't require probate at all, and other 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 aren't included in the probate estate.
  • Property held in joint tenancy: A home, bank account, or other asset held in joint tenancy doesn't go through probate. Instead, the surviving owner becomes the sole owner.
  • 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.
  • Payable-on-death (POD) bank accounts: The funds in a POD account pass to the POD beneficiary at the death of the account holder.
  • Assets registered in transfer-on-death (TOD) form: Arizona allows you to name a TOD beneficiary for securities and vehicles. Assets registered in TOD form pass directly to the named beneficiary without probate.
  • Real estate transferred by a transfer-on-death deed: In Arizona, an owner of real estate can execute and record a transfer-on-death (TOD) deed that allows property to go directly to the TOD beneficiaries without probate.
  • Contracts: When certain agreements—such as life insurance policies or annuities—name a beneficiary to receive proceeds, the proceeds don't need to go through probate.
  • Retirement accounts. The funds in retirement accounts don't go through probate if the account holder designated a beneficiary.

To learn more about how to avoid probate, see Avoiding Probate in Arizona.

Probate Shortcuts in Arizona

Some estates can take advantage of the following 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.

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 $75,000
  • you must wait at least 30 days after death, and
  • the estate must not be going through formal probate—or there's no pending application for the appointment of a personal representative.

(Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 14-3971 (2024).)

Real estate: To use an affidavit to claim real estate:

  • the total value of all real estate in the estate must be less than $100,000
  • you must wait at least six months after the death
  • there's no personal representative currently appointed, an application for appointment of a personal representative isn't pending, or it's been more than one year since a closing statement for the estate was filed with the court
  • funeral expenses and all unsecured debts must have been paid, and
  • no estate tax can be due.

(Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 14-3971 (2024).)

Learn more about claiming property with affidavits.

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:

  • costs and expenses of administration
  • reasonable funeral expenses
  • reasonable last medical expenses of the deceased person
  • statutory amounts of money (called the "homestead" and "family" allowances) to support the spouse and children of the deceased person, and
  • the value of any property that's exempt from creditors.

If the estate qualifies for summary administration, the personal representative can immediately distribute the estate's assets and file a closing statement with the court. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 14-3973 (2024).)

For more information, 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. It generally is used when there's a valid will that hasn't been challenged. The personal representative appointed by the court administers the estate with minimal court supervision. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 14-3301 through 14-3311 (2024).)

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. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 14-3401 through 14-3415 (2024).)

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's necessary to protect an inheritor, creditor, or other interested party. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 14-3501, 14-3502, 14-3504 (2024).)

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 in the county where the deceased person lived. 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. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 14-3201 (2024).)

If there's no will or the will doesn't name an executor, the court turns to state law, which lists who has priority for appointment. The surviving spouse is first on the list. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 14-3203 (2024).)

The court determines the validity of the will and gives the personal representative "letters of administration," an official document showing the personal representative's right to manage the estate.

Next, the personal representative notifies inheritors and creditors about the estate administration within 30 days of being appointed. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 14-3705 (2024).)

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. 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. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 14-3801 (2024).)

After giving 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. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 14-3706, 14-3709, 14-3931 (2024).)

Learn more about estates, executors, and probate courts.

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