Everything you need to know about probate

Everything you need to know about probate

When a loved one passes, one of the last things they want to think about dealing with is the legal and financial side of an individual’s death. But, unfortunately, for many family’s, it’s something they have to handle even though they may be feeling overwhelmed with feelings of grief and emotion.

A guide that can help you understand the Arizona probate process and proceedings will ensure a successful outcome.

What is probate?

Probate is the process of administering an estate after a decedent passes away. The probate court system in the jurisdiction where the decedent resided handles the process.

If the decedent had a will, the probate process mainly involves proving the will’s validity, executing its instructions, and paying any applicable taxes.

Probate proceedings can be very complex, so the will must be clearly written so that the process is as smooth as possible. A last will and testament dictates who receives the estate’s assets, who takes care of any minor children or dependents, and designates the specific executor of the will.

If a decedent dies without a will or intestate, the probate court system decides who the assets are distributed, following the state’s intestate laws where the proceedings are held.

Probate terms

  • Decedent: The deceased person whose assets become their estate. In turn, the estate is then probated through the courts.
  • Executor: The person who has to carry out the instructions laid out by the decedent in the will.
  • Administration: The management and settlement of an estate by an individual who acts under the court’s authority.
  • Public administrator: This person is appointed by the probate court to administer an estate if a decedent passes away without a formal will.
  • Beneficiary: A person or entity specifically named in a will, trust, or testament to receive assets of an estate.
  • Probate bond: A type of insurance that protects the assets of an estate in the event of an error during the probate process.
  • Codicil: A legal document you use to amend and change a will.
  • Creditor claim: This is something creditors file with the probate court when they want to make a claim against an estate for a debt to be repaid.
  • Escheat: The process whereby assets of a decedent’s estate revert to the government., for example, if the court has been unable to locate legal heirs or none have come forward.
  • Heirship hearing: This is a legal process by which the probate court is presented evidence that they use to determine the right amount of entitlement to each heir.
  • Heirship order: This is an official court decision that specifies entitled heirs and their respective shares of the assets.
  • Inventory: An itemized list of assets that make up a person’s estate.
  • Testate: When a person passes away with a proper and valid will.
  • Intestate and intestacy: The condition of an estate of a decedent who died without a will.
  • Letters of administration: A document issued by the court granting the appointed public administrator the authority to handle the affairs of an intestate estate.
  • Letters testamentary: A letter issued by a probate court that authorizes the estate’s executor to begin the process of carrying out the will.
  • Notice of probate and notice to creditors: The publishing of this notice is a requirement in some states. It gives potential creditors of the deceased notice that the estate is being probated.

Probate steps

The probate process can be broken down into five primary steps:

Step 1: Open probate

The executor files a petition with the probate court allowing them to start the process of probating the estate. It starts by proving the validity of the will. The probate court verifies whether a will is legally valid or not. The probate process cannot move forward until this is done.

Step 2: Send notices

The executor notifies any interested parties or creditors that the estate is being probated. Interested parties include those specified in the will as well as close relatives or family members who would be identified as next of kin by intestacy laws.

Step 3: Take inventory

The executor has to assess the estate’s total value, including all assets of the decedent at the time of their death. The complexity of this step depends on the type and volume of assets the decedent had.

Step 4: Distribute assets

This step is very time-consuming and could take several months, especially when significant assets such as a house are involved.

Step 5: Close estate

When all assets have been distributed, sold, or disposed of and the court and executor have been compensated, the estate can be closed.

Dying without a will

When someone dies without a valid will, their assets are declared “intestate.” This means the courts have to decide who should receive assets. Generally speaking, the probate courts appoint a public administrator to act as an executor of sorts. They will administer the estate throughout the process.


The probate process can be very time-consuming and complex to navigate, regardless of the state that it takes place within. The steps have to be rigidly adhered to, and numerous variables can add challenges along the way.

The best way to navigate the process is to work with a licensed attorney in the state where the decedent resided at the time of their death.

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