Probate in Arizona

Makayla Maraganis May 26, 2023

Introduction to Arizona Probate Cases

Under Arizona law, once a person residing in Arizona dies (or if they reside outside of Arizona but own real property in Arizona when they die) their loved ones might be required to open Informal or Formal Probate, Ancillary Probate, or transfer title to real and personal property through a Small Estate Proceeding.

Definitions you may Need to Know

Probate-related matters often have a lot of words that the average person doesn’t use every day. To assist you in navigating the potentially challenging language associated with probate matters we have provided a list of commonly-used words that you may see:

Decedent – the person who died;

Estate – all the money and property owned by a particular person at their death;

Real Property – Real estate, land, buildings, and anything else that is affixed to the earth;

Personal Property – all property that is not real property (e.g. cars, bank accounts, furniture);

Personal Representative – the person who the court appoints to administer the Decedent’s Estate;

Probate – official proceedings with the court where the court appoints a Personal Representative and oversees the administration of a Decedent’s Estate;

Intestacy – when a Decedent dies without a will or without a valid will;

Beneficiary – someone named in a will, trust, or some other formal legal document to be the recipient of assets or property after the passing of the Decedent;

Heir – someone entitled under the law to be the recipient of a Decedent’s estate when there is no valid will or trust.

Transfer of Title through Small Estate Proceedings

If the Decedent had under $100,000 in real property and less than $75,000 in personal property, then probate may be avoided all together through filing Affidavits in Small Estate Proceedings.

After Affidavits for Transfer of Real Property and Collection of Personal Property are filed with the court clerk in either the county the Decedent died in or the county the Decedent owns real property in will sign the affidavits. These affidavits, once signed, can be used to transfer assets out of the Decedent’s name.

Informal v. Formal Probate

If the Decedent’s Estate does not qualify for Small Estate Proceedings, you may need to file to open Probate in either the county the Decedent died in or the county the Decedent owns real property in to distribute the Decedent’s assets.

Typically, you can file to open Informal Probate which is Arizona’s simplest form of probate. Informal probate requires minimal court oversight and may be done both when the Decedent had a will or if they died without a will. If the Decedent had a will and the court admits the will into probate, after the court appoints a Personal Representative, the Personal Representative must distribute the Decedent’s assets in accordance with the will.

Informal probate can also be opened if the Decedent died without a will. If the Decedent died without a will, after the court appoints a Personal Representative, the Personal Representative will likely have to distribute the Decedent’s assets in accordance with Arizona’s intestacy statutes (A.R.S. 14-2102 & 14-2103). These statutes list the order in which a Decedent’s family members are in to receive Decedent’s assets.

If the Decedent’s will does not meet the requirements for informal probate, formal probate might be required. The formal probate process is typically a more complicated and longer process than informal probate. A judge will get involved to resolve any issues such as challenges to validity of a will.

Ancillary Probate

If the Decedent resided outside of the state of Arizona at the time of their death but owned real property in Arizona, to distribute or sell the real property located in Arizona, the out-of-state Personal Representative will be required to open an Ancillary Probate proceeding in the county where the real property is located in Arizona.

Once Ancillary Probate is opened, the Personal Representative will have the authority to distribute or sell the Decedent’s real property in accordance with Decedent’s will or with intestacy laws.   

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) – Arizona Probate

Why do I have to go through the court if Decedent had a will?

A will needs to be reviewed by a court for several reasons including to give notice to all potential heirs, even those not named in the will and to determine whether the will meets the statutory requirements required by Arizona law (see A.R.S. §§ 14-2501 – 2506 and 2518).

What happens if someone dies without a will?

If someone dies without a will, then their estate is distributed to their heirs according to state intestacy laws (see A.R.S. §§ 14-2102 – 2114). This typically means the Decedent’s spouse and/or children will receive their Estate. If they did not have a spouse or children at their death, then other members of their family will inherit their Estate. If the Decedent did not have close or distant family at the time of their death, there is a chance that their Estate will go to the State.

Do accounts with beneficiaries on them need to go through court?

Typically, no. If the beneficiary outlives the Decedent, the account with a beneficiary typically will not need to go through probate. However, if the beneficiary is a minor at the time the Decedent dies, a conservatorship may need to be opened through the court to manage the money on behalf of the minor.

If there is a Right of Survivorship on the Decedent’s Deed or a Beneficiary Deed, does the Decedent’s home need to go through Probate?

Typically, no. If the other person on the title to the home who has the right of survivorship outlives the Decedent, the real property can typically be transferred into their name without going through probate. Similarly, if the beneficiary to a beneficiary deed outlives the Decedent, the home likely will not need to go through the court. See the previous section for exceptions to avoiding the court.