Everyone handles the death of a family member or loved one in their own unique way. There simply is no rule book for processing loss. If you recently lost someone close to you, and you were also named as the Executor of the estate in the decedent’s Last Will and Testament, however, there are rules and procedures to follow when it comes to probating the decedent’s estate. Although not legally required, retaining the services of an experienced estate planning attorney to assist you throughout the probate of the estate is a wise choice. In the meantime, it always helps to have some idea where to start and what resources are available. With that in mind, the estate planning attorneys at Morris Hall PLLC have put together some commonly used Mesa, Arizona probate resources that you may find helpful during your role as Executor.
Probate Basics for the Beginner
Probate is the legal process that is typically required after someone dies. Probate serves several important functions, including providing a legal framework within which the decedent’s assets are transferred to the new owners as well as ensuring that all creditors of the estate, including tax authorities, are paid. The individual who oversees the probate of an estate is referred to as the Executor and is appointed by the decedent if a Last Will and Testament was executed prior to death. If the decedent died intestate, or without a Will, any competent adult may volunteer to be the “Personal Representative(PR) and oversee the probate of the estate. For more general information on the probate process, the American Bar Association has a section entitled “The Probate Process” section of the American Bar Association’s website may be helpful as is the “Probate” section of the Arizona Courts website.
Resources for the Pro Se Executor
The probate of an estate usually occurs in the county in which the decedent was a resident at the time of his/her death. If the decedent was a resident of Mesa, therefore, the probate will be filed in Maricopa County. That means you will be in the Superior Court of Maricopa County. Probating an estate often involves complex legal and financial issues with which the average personal is unfamiliar. Consequently, most PRs retain the services of an experienced estate planning attorney to help them through the probate process. If you decide to proceed pro se, or without an attorney, however, you will need to learn court procedures and rules as well as educate yourself in more depth about the probate process to ensure that you do not make costly mistakes. The Arizona Rules of Probate Procedure can be found on the Westlaw website. The Arizona Courts website also has a “Resources” section that may provide you with additional assistance. Finally, forms you will likely need during your time as a PR may be available on the Forms section of the Arizona Courts Self-Help website.
Resources for Finding an Attorney
If you decide that going it alone isn’t for you, you may be equally intimidated by the prospect of finding an attorney to assist you. A good place to start your search is the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys website. The AAEPA is a national organization of attorneys who have chosen to focus their practice on legal issues related to wills, trusts, and estates. Membership in the AAEPA signifies that an attorney has proven experience in the areas of estate planning and/or elder law. The State Bar of Arizona’s “Find a Lawyer” section is another good resource as is the Lawyer Referral Service of the Maricopa Bar Association for locating an experienced estate planning attorney to help you.
Resources for All Executors
If you are the PR, you will need to prepare a petition to open probate. If you have retained (or will retain) an attorney to assist you, this is something your attorney will prepare for you. In addition, you must submit an original, signed, copy of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament if one was located along with a certified death certificate. In the State of Arizona, you may obtain certified death certificates from the Arizona Department of Health Services. Another duty you will have as the PR is to ensure that you have identified all assets owned by the decedent. The Maricopa County Assessor’s Office is a good place to start your search for any real property owned by the decedent at the time of death. Yet another duty of the PR is to notify creditors of the estate that probate is underway. To ensure that unknown creditors also have a chance to file a claim, you will need to publish notice of the probate of the estate. The Arizona Courts Self-Help website offers a publication entitled “Procedures: How to Serve Legal Papers by Publication” that explains what you must do to fulfill this obligation.
Resources for Calculating and Paying Taxes
Before the probate of an estate can be wrapped up and the remaining assets distributed to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate, the PR must determine if the estate owes federal and/or state gift and estate taxes. If you are unfamiliar with gift and estate taxes, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website offers a general overview of the federal estate tax. They also have a “Frequently Asked Questions about Estate Tax” section that may be helpful. If the estate does, indeed, owe federal gift and estate taxes, those taxes must be paid before any assets are transferred out of the estate. Although a handful of states also impose a state level gift and estate tax, Arizona is not one of those. Nevertheless, you should check with the Arizona Department of Revenue to determine if a return needs to be filed.
If you have additional questions or concerns about fulfilling your role as Personal Representative, or about the probate process in general, contact an experienced Mesa, Arizona estate planning attorney at Morris Hall PLLC by calling 888-222-1328 to schedule your appointment today.