Probate & Intestate Administration
Most post-death proceedings have nothing to do with disputes, but they are quite involved and must be handled carefully in order to avoid creating problems. While John R. Fitzpatrick focuses his law practice on helping clients successfully resolve disputes, he and his staff are also dedicated to helping clients navigate the often confusing and detail-oriented administration process. By properly handling or overseeing the administration duties, he and his team can often help one prevent avoidable disputes and the often costly and contentious litigation that can follow.
In Arizona, “probate” is a term used for a variety of things, leading to considerable confusion. Technically, one probates a will by submitting it to the Court for approval. Although that definition is quite limited, confusion arises because the Arizona Superior Court refers to such cases, as well as all those involving trusts, intestacy, guardianship and conservatorship, as “probate” matters. All such matters are given a “probate” case number, are governed by the Arizona Rules of Probate Procedure, and some Arizona counties even use the term “Probate Court.” It can all sound a bit overwhelming.
In a proceeding involving a will, the Court has to determine the suitability of the will and appoint a person, the “personal representative,” to be in charge of handling the property and affairs of the deceased person (the decedent). The Court’s involvement can be handled formally, or in certain circumstances, informally. The personal representative’s handling the decedent’s estate, which is often called the “administration,” may, in certain situations, be Court-supervised. In probate administration, the personal representative serves in a fiduciary capacity, meaning that he or she must look out for the best interests of the estate and honor the decedent’s intentions as expressed in the will. The personal representative must take control of the estate, protect it, handle creditor claims, account for the transactions involving the estate and, ultimately, distribute the estate according to the deceased person’s last will and testament. Probate typically takes anywhere between six months to more than a year, depending on the complexity of the estate and whether any disputes arise. Mr. Fitzpatrick, his colleagues and staff have considerable experience handling probate administrations. They maintain a thorough understanding of the Arizona statutes and case law, as well as the Arizona Rules of Probate Procedure which came into effect as recently as January 1, 2009.
If you have been named in someone’s will to be the personal representative, or what is often referred to as the “executor” or “administrator” of the estate, Mr. Fitzpatrick can assist you by explaining and helping you carry out your duties, preparing you for the probate process, and by assisting in the preparation and filing all of the necessary documents. If you are a beneficiary under someone’s will, Mr. Fitzpatrick can work to ensure that your interests are represented and to help protect your rights.
When a person dies without a valid will, or if the will fails to distribute all of the property of the decedent, such person is said to have died “intestate.” In these situations and with rare exceptions, the decedent’s estate must still be handled through a Court process. The Court must make a determination of intestacy, appoint a personal representative, and determine who will ultimately be distributed the estate’s assets. The persons to whom an intestate decedent’s estate is ultimately distributed are called “heirs,” and they are determined in accordance with the priorities specified by Arizona’s law of intestate succession. If your loved one has passed without a will, or even if your long lost uncle has died, and there is no one handling the situation, John R. Fitzpatrick can advise you of your rights and help guide you through the process.
Small Estates and Non-Probate Transfers
If the decedent’s estate consists of merely a small amount of personal property, Arizona law allows in certain circumstances that the estate can be collected without the Court process. While it is always a good idea to consult with counsel about the availability and suitability of such approach, the laws relating to small estate collection, and the pertinent forms, are available on-line through the Maricopa County Superior Court’s Self Service Website. http://www.superiorcourt.maricopa.gov/SuperiorCourt/Self-ServiceCenter/Forms/ProbateCases/prob_pbse1.asp.
In addition, many bank accounts, annuities and securities accounts have pay-on-death designations or joint account provisions. Real estate can be subject to beneficiary deeds. These arrangements, and many others, are called non-probate transfers. They allow the passing of property all without Court involvement, and sometimes they are even exempt from the claims of a decedent’s creditors. Non-probate transfers are not deemed to be part of the estate for probate or intestacy cases, but they can affect administration issues.
Seek Experienced Legal Counsel
If you are named personal representative or designated as a beneficiary under a will, or if your close relative has passed without a will, it is important that you hire experienced counsel who can assist with probate administration and any disputes that might arise in the process. To discuss such matters contact John R. Fitzpatrick.