Probate for Small AZ Estates

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Courthouse for estate probate

In Arizona, full probate is not required for "small" estates, enabling executors to save considerable effort and cost.

Small Estates - Personal Property

If an AZ estate contains <$75,000 in personal property (i.e., everything other than real estate), you may be able to use an Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property to skip probate entirely.

In calculating the value of personal property, you should value it as of the date of death, and ignore any debts other than secured liens and encumbrances (such as a car loan). Do not include assets that would not normally go through probate, such as community property with rights of survivorship, assets with named beneficiaries (e.g., 401Ks, life insurance policies), and other standard probate exclusions.

Requirements

You can use the small estate affidavit process for personal property if:

  • The personal property is worth <$75,000 as calculated above
  • The death was more than 30 days ago
  • No one has been appointed executor for the estate, and there are no such appointments pending
  • The person claiming an asset is entitled to it
  • Funeral expenses and any expenses from the last illness have been paid

Process

To use the small estate affidavit process:

  1. Prepare an Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property (see below)
  2. Provide a notarized copy of the affidavit to any custodian of estate assets to gain custody of the assets
  3. Do anything else required to settle the estate (and see Debts below)
  4. If everything goes smoothly, no court involvement should be necessary at all

Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property

An Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property requires the following information:

  • Name and address of decedent
  • A statement that all estate personal property is worth <$75,000
  • A statement that >30 days have passed since the death
  • A statement that you are entitled to collect the property
  • A statement that no one has been appointed executor for the estate, and there are no such appointments pending
  • A description of the property to be collected (i.e., bank account number)

The affidavit must be notarized, and it may be helpful to attach:

  • A certified copy of the death certificate
  • A certified copy of the will (if there is one)

See also complete small estate package for Maricopa County.

Vehicles

Vehicles involve an extra step, requiring you to obtain title via the Motor Vehicle Department (MVD) of the AZ Department of Transportation. Simply fill in a Non-Probate Affidavit (Form 32-6901) and deliver it to the MVD.

See ARS § 14-3971-B.

Small Estates - Real Property

If the estate contains <$100,000 in real property (i.e., real estate), you may be able to bypass most probate court interactions (see preceding section for handling personal property).

In calculating the value of real property, you should value it according to the tax assessor's valuation in the year of death, subtracting any secured liens and encumbrances (such as mortgages). Do not include assets that would not normally go through probate, such as community property with rights of survivorship, and other standard probate exclusions.

Requirements

You can use the small estate affidavit process for real property if:

  • The real property is worth <$100,000 as per above
  • The death was more than 6 months ago
  • No one has been appointed executor for the estate, and there are no such appointments pending
  • The person or persons claiming the property is entitled to it, and no one else is
  • All unsecured estate debts have been paid, and no federal estate tax is due

Process

To use the small estate affidavit process:

  1. Prepare an Affidavit for Transfer of Title to Real Property (see below)
  2. Submit the affidavit to Probate Registrar at Superior Court and obtain court certification (see Court below)
  3. Record the certified affidavit with the county recorder in the county where the property is located
  4. Do anything else required to settle the estate

Affidavit for Transfer of Title to Real Property

An Affidavit for Transfer of Title to Real Property requires the following information:

  • Name and address of decedent
  • Statements that each requirement listed above has been met
  • A description of the property to be collected (i.e., bank account number)

Every person inheriting an interest in the property must sign the affidavit, and you must attach:

  • A certified copy of the death certificate
  • A certified copy of the will (if there is one)

See also complete small estate package for Maricopa County.

See ARS § 14-3971-E.

Summary Probate Administration

If an Arizona estate contains very little that would have to go through probate, you can short-circuit the probate process via summary administration.

Requirements

To qualify for summary administration, an estate cannot be worth more than the sum of:

  • Any family allowances
  • Estate administration expenses (including executor fees)
  • Reasonable funeral expenses
  • Reasonable and necessary medical expenses for the last 60 days of life

In calculating estate value, you should value assets as of the date of death, and ignore any debts other than liens and encumbrances such as mortgages. Do not include assets that would not normally go through probate, such as community property with rights of survivorship, assets with named beneficiaries (e.g., 401Ks, life insurance policies), and other standard probate exclusions.

Process

You can settle an estate via summary administration using the following steps:

  1. Open a probate case with the court
  2. Immediately collect and distribute assets to the parties entitled to them in accordance with the qualification criteria, ignoring any other creditors
  3. File a closing statement with the court (see below)
  4. Send a copy of the closing statement to all distributees, and include a full accounting of estate financials (i.e., the original estate inventory and how it was disbursed)
  5. Send a copy of the closing statement to all unpaid creditors

Closing Statement

A closing statement must state:

  • The estate was not worth more than the items listed above under Requirements
  • You have administered the estate by disbursing and distributing it to the persons entitled thereto
  • You have sent the notices required above

See ARS § 14-3973 and 3974.

Estate Settlement Considerations

Before paying any debts or making any distributions, be sure to account for any AZ Family Entitlements, which typically have priority over everything except expenses of the last illness, funeral charges, and any estate administrations expenses.

Estate debts have priority over most distributions in turn, so you should arrange to have all debts resolved before distributing assets. Unpaid estate creditors have the right to sue heirs for the value of any distributions received using the approaches described on this page.

If estate solvency is uncertain, an executor should consider going through official probate for the increased creditor protection it offers. Alternately, such uncertainty can sometimes persuade creditors to forgive a portion of debts, since they will want to avoid legal expenses as well, and may prefer to get something rather than nothing.

See also Making Distributions.

Court

In Arizona, estate probate is handled by a Superior Court in the county in which the decedent lived.

See also General Probate.

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