Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way… and It Might Be Probate Court

Preparing a Last Will and Testament (more commonly known as a will) is important, but many people don’t understand what a will does and doesn’t do. The biggest assumption people make is that by having a will, you avoid probate, the legal process that transfers the decedent’s assets to the beneficiaries listed in the will. Unfortunately, this is not true, and many beneficiaries are surprised to end up going to court when they thought their loved one “took care of everything” by having a will.

Courts probably don’t want to be tied up with “small estates”, so in most states (Arizona included), there is a set dollar amount that triggers the probate process.

In Arizona, if the decedent had more than $75,000 of personal property in probate assets or the entire value of their interest in real property is more than $100,000, probate is required regardless of whether the decedent had a will or not.

Examples of personal property probate assets:

  • Bank/brokerage accounts only in the decedent’s name (not payable-on-death)
  • Life insurance/IRA with no beneficiary designation

Examples of real property probate assets:

  • Real property only in the decedent’s name
  • Real property owned by the decedent and other individual(s) as tenants in common

Assets that are jointly titled, such as a joint bank account or real property owned by joint tenants with right of survivorship, are not probate assets.

For example, if Pamela had a will that left everything to her husband Richard but she had a bank account in her name alone with $80,000, Richard would have to go through probate to legally transfer this account to himself. Yes, even spouses may have to file for probate!

My advice is to not only have a will prepared but to be informed on how to avoid probate if possible. Schedule a consultation with me so we can go over this together!

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