AZ Statute of Limitations for Contesting a Will

By Beverly Bird

Arizona offers three types of probate proceedings: informal, formal and supervised. Supervised probate is rare and involves continuous court intervention under special circumstances. Most wills are submitted for informal probate, a shorter and usually less expensive process. Probate should be opened within two years of the testator’s death, and objections to the will should also be filed within two years, though there are numerous exceptions.

Before Probate

In Arizona, formal probate is a court process to determine whether or not a will is valid. If you challenge a will before it is submitted for probate, it is barred from informal probate and has to proceed as a formal probate. However, this is not your last chance to object.

During Informal Probate

After a will has been submitted for informal probate, you have four months from the time the court receives it to file an objection and force the matter to open under formal probate instead. If you don’t object during this time, an order is entered by the court to proceed with administration of the estate informally. You can also contest a will at any time while it is in the informal probate process, forcing a formal probate hearing. If you do this, informal probate is essentially frozen until your objection can be heard by a judge and jury. The executor is not permitted to take any further action until the issue is resolved.

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After Probate Closes

After informal probate closes, it is still possible to reopen the matter up to one year later, or up to two years after the testator’s date of death, whichever occurs last. Informal probate distributions to beneficiaries and payments are “conclusive” only unless superseded by an order from the court to open a formal probate or testacy proceeding during this time. However, once formal probate concludes, it is binding.

Other Exceptions

If you are objecting to actions taken by the executor, or the person appointed to probate the estate, pay the debts and make the bequests, you can do this up to three years after the testator’s death. Complaints that the executor abused his power must be filed within six months of the estate closing, however. Complaints that beneficiary distributions from the estate were not made properly can be made within a year of the date of distribution or within three years of the date of death.

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Time Limits When Contesting a Will

Estate law is not an area that lends itself well to black-and-white answers. Statutes vary from state to state. Compounding that is the desire of courts to preserve the deceased’s wishes at all reasonable costs. Judges can and do waive statutes of limitation for contesting a will if they believe there is good cause, and most state legislatures have layers built into their rules to account for every possible circumstance.

How Long Does One Have to Probate a Will?

Probating a will involves court procedures to supervise the distribution of estate assets to the beneficiaries as provided for in the will. These procedures are governed by state law and the length of time you have to start probate varies from state to state. Some states have no set deadline or statute of limitations to start probate. However, if state law makes probate mandatory for proper administration of the deceased's estate, any unreasonable delay in probate may have adverse consequences.

Does the Executor Have Authority Over the Will?

An executor is the person named in a will to administer the estate of the person who died. The executor may be a bank or trust company instead of an individual. While state law varies as to the exact duties of an executor, in general all executors must gather the estate's assets, pay creditors, then distribute remaining estate assets in accordance with the will's directives, without any discretion to deviate from the will except in limited circumstances.

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