Probate is the judicial procedure by which a decedent’s estate is handled through the appointment of a Personal Representative (some states use the term “Executor”). As mentioned in Platt & Westby’s webpage titled “Probate”, a probate is not always required to handle a decedent’s affairs. Many times, the decedent will not leave behind the kinds of property requiring a Probate, or perhaps the decedent utilized a Trust or other estate planning tool that make a Probate unnecessary. However, should you find yourself in the position where Probate is required, this article provides a rough outline for the standard Probate process. In certain cases, summary Probate proceedings are available which are not addressed by this article.
The first step in the Probate process is to determine if there is a Will or not. You will need to gain access to the decedent’s important papers to determine if there is a Will or perhaps the decedent made known to you a copy of his/her Will beforehand. If for any reason you cannot gain access to the decedent’s important papers, you may have to proceed to file for appointment of a Special Administrator to obtain the permission necessary to search through the decedent’s important papers. The Special Administrator appointment is outside the scope of this article – but a competent Phoenix Probate Attorney can assist with this. See A.R.S. 14-3614 et seq.
After determining whether or not there is a Will, the next step will be to determine if you may proceed with a formal or informal Probate opening. Arizona permits informal or formal proceedings at each of the different stages of a Probate, depending on the needs of the Probate estate, making it a flexible system. Often, you can begin an estate informally. Where the estate is testate (with an original valid Will), you can proceed to file an Application to have the Will Probated. Where the estate is intestate (without a Will) you can also proceed with an informal Application if all the heirs are agreeable to will serve as the Personal Representative.