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Understanding the Will Probate Process: A Comprehensive Guide

Photo of book called "Estate Law" and Last Will and Testament. Learning the Will Probate Process.

When a loved one passes away, their assets and property may need to go through the will probate process. This legal process can be complex and confusing, but understanding the steps involved can help make it smoother. In this guide, we’ll break down the will probate process and provide helpful tips to navigate it successfully.

Graphic of the will probate process.

What is the will probate process?

Probate is the legal process of administering a deceased person’s money, property and other assets. It involves identifying and gathering the deceased person’s assets, paying any debts and taxes owed, and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries named in the will or according to state law if there is no will. Probate is necessary to ensure that the deceased person’s assets are distributed according to their wishes or state law. It also provides a legal framework for resolving any disputes that may arise.

Identifying the Personal Representative and beneficiaries.

The first step in the will probate process is identifying the Personal Representative (called an executor in some states) named in the will (if there is a will). The Personal Representative is responsible for managing the deceased person’s estate, including identifying and gathering assets, paying debts and taxes, and distributing assets to beneficiaries. If there is no Personal Representative named in the will, the court will appoint one according to state law.

Understanding your role as Personal Representative.

If you are the named Personal Representative, you have a lot of responsibility. It is crucial for you to understand your role as Personal Rep and to hire a probate attorney to guide you through the process.  If you make even one wrong decision, you could be held personally responsible.

Who can become Personal Rep in Arizona.

In Arizona, A.R.S. Section 14-3203 sets forth the priority among persons seeking appointment as personal representative. Under that statute, persons have priority for appointment in the following order:

  1. The person with priority as determined by a probated will including a person nominated by a power conferred in a will.
  2. The surviving spouse of the decedent who is a devisee of the decedent.
  3. Other devisees of the decedent.
  4. The surviving spouse of the decedent.
  5. Other heirs of the decedent.
  6. If the decedent was a veteran or the spouse or child of a veteran, the department of veterans’ services.
  7. Forty-five days after the death of the decedent, any creditor, except a funeral director or funeral establishment owner who has control of the decedent’s remains.
  8. The public fiduciary.

Once the Personal Representative is identified, they must notify all beneficiaries named in the will and provide them with a copy of the will. If there are no named beneficiaries, the assets will be distributed according to state law.

Gathering and valuing assets during the will probate process.

After the court has appointed a Personal Representative and beneficiaries have been notified, the next step in the will probate process is to gather and value the assets of the deceased person’s estate. This includes identifying all bank accounts, investments, real estate, personal property, and any other assets. The Personal Representative must also determine the value of each asset, which may require the assistance of appraisers or other professionals. It’s important to note that the Personal Representative must identify and pay any valid owed by the deceased person before distributing assets to beneficiaries.

Household belongings to inventory during probate will process.

Paying off debts and taxes during the will probate process.

One of the most important steps in the will probate process is identifying and paying off any debts owed by the deceased person. This includes outstanding bills, loans, and taxes. The Personal Representative must sent a Notice to Creditors to all known creditors of the person. Under A.R.S. Section 14-3801, those creditors then have 60 days after the mailing or other delivery of the notice, whichever is later, to present their claim or be forever barred. If the creditor provides a claim, the Personal Representative can either deny or allow that claim. Failing to do anything has the effect of allowing the claim. If a claim is denied, the creditor then must file a Petition for Allowance of Claim within a certain time, or otherwise their claim is barred.

The Personal Representative must also file any necessary tax returns and pay any outstanding taxes owed by the deceased person. Once all debts and taxes have been paid, the Personal Representative can distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the will (if there was one) or according to state law.

Distributing assets to beneficiaries.

After all debts and taxes have been paid, the Personal Representative can begin distributing the assets to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the will or state law. This process can be straightforward or complex, depending on the number and type of assets involved, as well as the number of beneficiaries. The Personal Representative must ensure that each beneficiary receives their fair share of the estate, and that any specific bequests or instructions in the will are carried out. It’s important to keep detailed records of all transactions and communications with beneficiaries to avoid any disputes or legal issues.

Heirs in Arizona are entitled to receive personal property of the decedent “in kind” under A.R.S. Section 14-3906 and -3907.

Disputes among beneficiaries during the will probate process.

Disputes among beneficiaries can arise for various reasons, such as disagreements over the distribution of assets, interpretation of the will, or disputes over the validity of the will. These disputes can cause delays in the probate process and lead to increased costs and legal fees.

If there are disputes among beneficiaries in a probate, the Personal Representative of the estate may need to hire a probate litigation attorney to help. That attorney can provide guidance on how to resolve the disputes and make (if necessary) get the court to decisions on behalf of the estate. The court may hold hearings and consider evidence from all parties involved before making a decision.

Methods for resolving disputes among beneficiaries.

Some common methods for resolving disputes among beneficiaries in a probate include mediation, arbitration, or litigation. Mediation involves a neutral third party working with the parties to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. Arbitration involves a third party who acts as a judge and makes a binding decision. Litigation involves taking the dispute to court and allowing a judge to make a decision based on evidence presented.

If you are involved in a probate dispute, hire a probate litigation attorney.

Ultimately, the outcome of a dispute among beneficiaries in a probate will depend on the specific circumstances of the case and the laws of the state in which the probate is taking place. It is essential to seek the guidance of an experienced probate litigation attorney to navigate these complex issues and protect your interests.

Want Help With the Will Probate Process?

Are you struggling to understand the complexities of the will probate process? Do you need guidance in navigating the legal system after the loss of a loved one? Our experienced team of attorneys is here to help.

At Sudden Wealth Protection Law, we understand how overwhelming the probate process can be, and we want to offer our expertise to those who need it most. Our compassionate lawyers will guide you through every step of the way, ensuring that your loved one’s wishes are carried out smoothly and efficiently.

Don’t face the probate process alone. Let us help you gain a clear understanding of what to expect and how to protect your loved one’s legacy. Contact us today at 602-443-4888 to schedule a consultation and take the first step towards peace of mind.


Founding attorney Paul Deloughery has been an attorney since 1998, became a Certified Family Wealth Advisor. He is also the founder of Sudden Wealth Protection Law.