Probate Attorney Phoenix, AZ Probate Attorney Phoenix, AZ

Whether you are planning your estate or are the executor or beneficiary for someone who has recently passed away, you may be wondering whether or not a probate attorney Phoenix, Arizona has to offer is necessary.

If you have recently lost someone and need legal advice or assistance with the probate process, please call a probate lawyer in Phoenix, AZ today. Kamper & Estrada, PLLC has decades of experience with estate-related legal matters. For a consultation with a trusted probate lawyer, turn to Kamper & Estrada, PLLC for honest legal advice.

Planning your estate is complicated. One area of estate planning law that trips many people up is probate. Most people do not know what probate is or whether it is beneficial to avoid it. One especially common question is whether probate is always required in the wake of an individual’s death. Understanding how probate works could affect your estate planning desires, so it is important to be informed. Speaking with an experienced Phoenix, AZ probate attorney from Kamper & Estrada, PLLC can help to provide clarity as you prepare your own estate and/or respond to the estate planning wishes of a loved one. 

Defining Probate

Probate is the process of proving the legal validity of an individual’s will. Generally speaking, when probate is required, a court will acknowledge the will and take care of a few aspects of it:

  • The executor of the will must be determined. If the will states who the executor should be, this process may be fast. Otherwise, it may take a while.
  • All administrative and economic aspects of the will must be resolved.
  • It must be determined how much estate taxes are due and that amount must be deducted from the estate.

Probate is usually a relatively fast process, although the state of the will often affects how long probate will last. If the will is neat, organized, and created with the probate process in mind, there is no reason probate has to last an unnecessarily long time. If the will is a mess, however, it can take much longer. This is one of the many reasons why it’s helpful to speak with a Phoenix, AZ probate attorney when planning your estate. Leaving behind a will that necessitates a lengthy probate process can be stressful for your loved ones. 

Is Probate Always Required?

So the question then becomes whether or not probate is required in any given situation. Probate may or may not be a requirement when anyone who has a will dies, depending on the state in which the individual’s estate is being managed. Exactly what happens when someone without a will dies depends on the laws and regulations of the state the person was a resident of. A Phoenix, AZ probate attorney can explain the probate requirements of any state laws that may affect your unique situation. 

It’s important to remember that your will does more than just distribute your belongings after your death. There are several legal matters your will addresses, so it is important to have a will. If you do not like the idea of probate, it may be more beneficial to take steps to minimize the duration of probate rather than try to avoid it altogether. For example, leaving a portion of your belongings in a trust can reduce probate requirements or allow you to avoid it, depending on your circumstances. Regardless of your situation, it is generally a good idea to speak with a Phoenix, Arizona probate attorney you can trust and work together to minimize probate stresses related to your own estate and/or the estates of your departed loved ones. Our firm would be happy to help you navigate your probate concerns and advise you of your options accordingly. 

Understanding Probate

Probate is a legal process that involves having to prove the validity of a will. It also includes the administration and management of the will according to its terms. Upon drafting a will, the decedent (drafter of the will) should have named an administrator who will have the responsibility of executing their wishes. The administrator, also known as the executor, will have many duties including:

  1. Notify the beneficiaries and creditors of the death
  2. Inventory and keep safe all of the decedent’s assets
  3. Value and sell (when necessary) the assets
  4. Pay off any owed debts and taxes
  5. Distribute the remaining assets to the named beneficiaries

When a will is the only estate documentation that exists, it must go through the probate process. This process is typically overseen by the circuit court nearest to the residence of the decedent. Depending on the circumstances involved, the probate process can be straightforward or very complicated. In general, the more complicated the process will be, or the more assets involved, the better it may be to have a Phoenix, AZ probate lawyer on your side. 

Avoiding Probate

It is very common for people to wonder whether probate is absolutely necessary. In general, it may be possible to avoid probate, but this is typically only an option when at least one of the following apply:

  • There is a living trust
  • The estate is valued at less than $50,000
  • There are named beneficiaries on investments, bank accounts, and retirement plans
  • There is property that is jointly owned

If the deceased person has chosen one of these routes, probate may be available. That being said, some cases will require certain assets to pass through probate while others can be left out. What is applicable for your situation largely depends on the circumstances involved. It may be in your best interest to consult a probate lawyer in Phoenix, Arizona. 

The Best Ways to Avoid Probate

There are a few ways in which you may be able to avoid the probate process. They are as follows:

Get Rid of Your Assets 

Although it might sound extreme, the easiest way you can avoid the probate process is to get rid of your assets. When there is no property in an estate, it will not, or cannot, be probated. How practical this might be will depend on a person’s needs and lifestyle. There are ways to get rid of your assets without literally giving them away. A probate lawyer in Phoenix, AZ can help you to understand what options may be available during a consultation.  

Utilize Joint Ownership Options

You can add a joint owner to bank accounts, deeds, retirement accounts, and more. If any of these assets are jointly owned, and with the rights of survivorship, they cannot be probated. There are drawbacks to jointly owning assets, such as:

  • In general, anything with joint ownership must be reported to the IRS
  • If the owner is sued or files for divorce, this asset can be pursued by the spouse or creditor. 
  • If the owner dies, the account/asset may be taxed between 50 and 100 percent.
  • Designate a Beneficiary 

Retirement accounts, life insurance, annuities, stocks, and other financial accounts can have a beneficiary. If you name a beneficiary, these accounts, will pass directly to them and not through probate. 

The Steps of Probate

While many people recognize probate as the court-supervised process of overseeing the distribution of a decedent’s assets, they may not understand how the whole thing works and may meet with a Probate Attorney in Phoenix, AZ at Kamper & Estrada, PLLC for help. Probate has a set order, and it all has to do with the authentication of a will and determining asset value before distribution. There are at least eight steps to probate:

#1 Authentication of the Will

Upon death, most states require that the last will and testament of the decedent be filed with the probate court. Once submitted, an Arizona Probate Attorney in Phoenix can get you the documents you need to petition the probate process. After the filings, a judge will authenticate the will, having a hearing to listen to any concerns. Once verified, the court will appoint an executor.

#2 Appointment of an Executor

While the will might designate an executor, the court will appoint if not, and this person is typically next of kin. The named person will receive documentation or letters of testamentary that allow them to deal with and distribute assets.

#3 Bond

As a Probate Attorney in Phoenix at Kamper & Estrada, PLLC may explain, though a bond is not always required, it is a form of insurance to protect the executor and the estate. The bond kicks in if the executor makes an error or acts criminally and will reimburse the estate.

#4 Assets

Once the executor is chosen and any bond payments taken care of, the executor can begin locating the decedent’s assets and taking possession of them. All assets can typically be identified by reviewing documents, like insurance policies and tax returns. Essentially, all assets must be maintained and protected throughout the probate process.

#5 Determination of Values

Next, the executor will have to determine the date of death values for all assets, which might be done with the help of a court-appointed appraiser. The final valuation will likely need to be submitted to the court in a report.

#6 Identification of Creditors and Paying Debts

After an evaluation is complete, the executor will need to notify all creditors of the decedent’s passing. If not all creditors are known, then the court may allow a death notice to be published in a newspaper. Creditors can then make claims against the estate which are either honored or challenged. If you aren’t sure whether a creditor is being honest or fraudulent, we suggest meeting with a Probate Attorney in AZ for advice.

#7 Taxes

Then, the executor must file the decedent’s final income tax returns. They must also determine any estate taxes owed. Any taxes owed are paid from the estate funds.

#8 Distribution of Assets

Finally, when all debts are settled, the executor petitions the court for permission to distribute the remainder of the estate to any named beneficiaries. The final distribution may include the establishment of trusts and handling of bequests.

Although many people are familiar with the term probate, they may not understand the process entirely and often seek guidance from a legal professional. 

What are the Fees for Probate?

When a will passes through the probate process, you can expect a broad range of fees that must be paid. Our probate lawyer in Phoenix, AZ has broken down an example of some of the fees you can likely expect. Bear in mind, the fees can vary by state, county, and circumstance.

Court Fees 

All states have court fees that must be paid for as soon as the will is probated. In general, the filing fee is in the neighborhood of $200 – $400 to open the probate. You will also need to pay for certified copies which are usually between $15 and $25 per copy.

Probate Lawyers’ Fees

Every Phoenix, Arizona probate lawyer will have their own fees; therefore, you should discuss them before you sign and agree to anything. What you will pay a probate lawyer will depend on the size of the estate, whether there are any unique challenges, and whether there are disagreements or the potential for litigation. A probate lawyer might charge between $3,000 and $12,000 to open and close the estate; however, this could be more or less depending on your cases’ circumstances. 

Accounting Fees

Accounting fees can vary greatly depending on the value of the estate and the assets included. For example, an estate that includes 20 different stocks and bonds will likely have higher accounting costs than an estate that is larger, but only has bank accounts and a couple of CDs. If the estate is taxable, the accounting fees could also be higher, especially if the Phoenix, AZ probate lawyer does not prepare and file state and federal returns. 

Appraising Assets

When you probate a will, all assets will need to be appraised. This includes art work, jewelry, vehicles, property, and so forth. Appraisal fees can run between several hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. 

Miscellaneous Fees

Apart from the aforementioned fees, there will likely be other miscellaneous fees include:

  • Postage to mail documents to the government, heirs, probate lawyers, and other interested parties
  • Storing assets
  • Moving or shipping assets
  • Paying the mortgage of the decedent
  • Paying property insurance of the decedent
  • Paying for other utilities and expenses of the decedent

Probating an estate can cost several thousands of dollars. There are ways to avoid paying some or all of these fees; however, that discussion is beyond the scope of what is contained on this page. If you would like to know more about avoiding probate, call a  probate lawyer in Phoenix, AZ from Kamper & Estrada, PLLC.

Call Kamper & Estrada, PLLC Now

Contact a Phoenix, AZ Probate Attorney at Kamper & Estrada, PLLC for a free consultation about probate by calling our offices during open hours, leaving a message, responding to our customer service live chat, or sending us an email.