The loss of a loved one is typically followed by a grieving period that is full of heightened emotions ranging from denial to anger to depression. If you are currently grieving the loss of a loved one, the last thing on your mind is probably the practical and legal ramifications of your loved one’s death. Someone, however, must be in charge of overseeing the probate of the individual’s estate. If you were named as the Personal Representative (PR) (or otherwise known as Executor in some states) of the estate in the decedent’s Last Will and Testament, your loved one has put you in charge of the administration of his/her estate. Retaining the services of an experienced estate planning attorney to assist you throughout the probate of the estate is certainly advisable. The Tucson, Arizona estate planning attorneys at Morris Hall PLLC understand how difficult this time is for you and your family. To help you get started with your job as PR, we have compiled some probate resources that should come in handy as you oversee the probate of the estate.

Probate Basics

If you are new to the concept of probate, it helps to learn a few basics before you get started with your duties and responsibilities as PR of the estate. Probate is the legal process that is typically required following the death of an individual. Probate is intended to serve several purposes, including providing a method by which estate assets are transferred to the new owners and ensuring that all debts of the decedent, including tax obligations, are paid before those assets are transferred out of the estate. If you are the PRof the estate, that means that the decedent appointed you to that position in his/her Last Will and Testament. It also means that the decedent had a considerable amount of faith in you and your abilities and is trusting you to efficiently and effectively handle the probate of his/her estate. If the decedent died “intestate,” or without leaving behind a Will, you might volunteer to be the Personal Representative (PR) of the estate.   For more general information on the probate process, “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 Personal Representative

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 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 Tucson, therefore, the probate will be filed in the Superior Court of Pima County. A link to the Arizona Rules of Probate Procedure as well as a forms link can be found on the court’s website. The Arizona Courts website also has a “Resources” section that may provide you with additional assistance.

Resources for Finding an Attorney

Given the complexity of the legal issues involved, and the fact the importance of the outcome, most PRs decide to at least consult with an experienced Arizona probate attorney before moving forward with the probate of the estate. If you make that decision, there are also some resources that may help you find the right attorney for you. For example, American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys website is a good place to start.  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 Lawyer “Find a Lawyer” section is another good resource for locating an experienced estate planning attorney to help you as is the Pima County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service.

Resources for All Personal Representatives

As the PR of the estate, you will need to obtain several certified copies of the decedent’s 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 Pima County Assessor’s Office allows you to search by name for 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

As the PR of the estate you must prepare an estate tax return and determine if the estate owes any federal taxes. Every estate is potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxes and if the estate does owe gift and estate taxes, that debt must be paid before any estate assets are distributed to beneficiaries or heirs of the estate. 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. Although some states also impose a state gift and estate tax, Arizona is not one of them.

Contact Us

If you have additional questions or concerns about fulfilling your role as Personal Representative, or about the probate process in general, contact an experienced Tucson, Arizona estate planning attorney at Morris Hall PLLC by calling 888-222-1328 to schedule your appointment today.