What’s the Difference Between Formal and Informal Probate in Phoenix, AZ?

Probate refers to the process by which an estate gets settled under court supervision. The purpose of probate is to ensure that the estate is administered properly and to prevent fraud. Arizona law provides for both informal and formal probate. Probate is not required at all if the decedent had equity less than $100,000 in real property or personal property that does not exceed $75,000.  In Phoenix, probate proceedings are handled by the Maricopa County Superior Court.

Informal Probate

Informal probate is the simplest form of probate. Informal probate is only an option when a valid will has not been challenged. In informal probate, there is minimal court supervision and no court proceeding. Rather a court officer, known as a Registrar, can act without a hearing to validate the will, appoint a personal representative, and close the estate. Because there is minimal court involvement, it is generally less expensive than formal probate and less time -consuming. The majority of probate proceedings in Phoenix, Arizona are informal.

Informal probate can only be made through application by the following people:

  1. Surviving spouse
  2. Adult child, sibling, or parent
  3. Heir
  4. Person nominated by the probated will
  5. If the decedent was a veteran, the department of veterans’ services
  6. Any creditor, 45 days after the death
  7. The public fiduciary, if no one is willing or able to serve in the above categories.

The Arizona Probate Code requires that heirs and devisees of an estate be given notice of an application for an informal probate proceeding. After being given notice, an heir or devisee has four months to challenge the will and trigger a formal probate proceeding. After four months, they are barred from challenging the will unless a new will is discovered. If an heir or devisee does not receive notice, they can contest the will within 12 months from the date of the informal probate proceeding or 2 years from the date of the decedent’s death, whichever is later.

Formal Probate

Formal probate is more complex and involves a court proceeding. It is used when there is a legal issue surrounding the will that needs to be resolved. There are many different legal issues that can arise during probate that would trigger formal probate. For example, a formal probate is needed if an interested person argues that the will is not valid, because the decedent was not of sound mind or the will was created under undue influence. Even if the will is valid, interested parties could argue conflicting interpretations of the will. Formal probate is also necessary if the original will cannot be found. Until the will has been determined to be valid by the court, the personal representative cannot make distributions under the will.

Notice in a formal probate proceeding is slightly different from informal probate. Notice is required to be given to the surviving spouse, children and other heirs, any devisees or executors named in the will that is being or has been probated, or any other personal representative of the decedent. Additionally, notice must be given by publication to all persons who have an interest in the proceeding at least 14 days before the proceeding.

Your Phoenix Informal Probate Attorney

The probate process can be complex and overwhelming, especially when you are dealing with the loss of a relative. Nicole Pavlik Law Firm can help you navigate the informal probate process and ensure that the final wishes of your loved one are being realized.


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