Does a Will in Arizona Have to Go Through Probate?

By Heather Frances J.D.

If you die with a valid will in Arizona, an Arizona probate court will typically oversee the administration of your estate. However, there are different types of probate. With or without a will, if your estate qualifies as a small estate under Arizona rules, probate may not be necessary. However, your beneficiaries will still have to complete some legal forms before your property can be distributed.

Probate Process

In Arizona, probate begins when your will is submitted to and accepted by the probate court. The court then appoints the person you named in your will -- or another person if no one was named -- to manage your estate. This person, called your executor, gathers your estate’s assets, pays your debts and expenses and distributes remaining assets to your beneficiaries. If your beneficiaries or other interested persons contest your will, the court must determine the will’s validity before proceeding. Once appointed, your executor must file certain forms and documents with the court as he works through the process of settling your estate.

Transferring Real Property

Sometimes, real property is transferred by the terms of your will, which means it must go through probate. For example, if you own a piece of land outright and leave it to your child in your will, the property becomes part of your probate assets and must be distributed through the probate process. However, with proper planning, your real estate does not necessarily have to go through probate. For example, land you own in joint tenancy or as community property with rights of survivorship passes automatically to the other owner when you die, regardless of whether the remainder of your estate goes through probate. You can also craft a beneficiary deed in which you pass property directly to someone else without giving them ownership rights to the property while you are alive.

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Small Estates

If your estate is small enough and meets certain other requirements, it may not have to go through a full probate process. Instead, your beneficiaries can process your estate by a signing a sworn form called an affidavit, then collect and distribute your estate. Your estate generally qualifies for this abbreviated process if your employer owes you compensation of $5,000 or less and your spouse wants access to the money, the net value of your personal property is less than $50,000 and the net value of real property of the estate located in Arizona is less than $75,000. Under most circumstances, this small estate process cannot be started sooner than 30 days after your death.

Nonprobate Property

Several types of property are considered non-probate property, meaning they do not have to go through the probate process to be distributed because they pass by contract or other deed. For example, insurance policies, retirement accounts and annuities typically contain a beneficiary designation and are paid directly to the named beneficiary upon your death. Similarly, bank accounts held as transfer-on-death or payable-on-death are transferred directly to the person you name rather than being included with the rest of your probate estate.

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