The Probate Process

While estate planning can be a somewhat sophisticated practice, the actual transferring at death occurs according to each asset’s simple classification as either nonprobate or probate property. Nonprobate property passes directly to beneficiaries according to each asset’s terms. Alternatively, probate property passes to devisees either by will or, when a decedent has no will, by the laws of intestacy. Before probate property can be fully transferred, however, it is subjected to the probate process. This court-regulated process has three core functions: it (1) provides evidence of transfer of title to the new owners, (2) protects creditors by providing a procedure for payment of debts, and (3) distributes the decedent’s property to intended devisees once estate’s creditors are paid.

The Arizona probate system is mostly governed by state law found within the Arizona Revised Statutes. Applicable probate rules explain the various probate phases, including but not limited to:

-Initiating the probate process by filing a petition with the Arizona Superior Court
-Proving a will’s validity to the Court
-Appointing a Personal Representative(s)
-Gathering and inventorying the decedent’s assets
-Providing notice to heirs, devisees, and known creditors
-Publicly announcing the estate administration to unknown creditors
-Paying off any liabilities the estate may owe
-Distributing the remaining assets in accordance with the will’s provisions (or intestacy laws)

Keep in mind, however, that effective estate planning during a testator’s life is crucial in limiting the amount of property that eventually must pass through probate, thus exposing assets to creditors. Put another way, it is typically ideal to maximize the amount of assets that pass directly to beneficiaries as nonprobate property.

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