How much are the average legal fees for settling an estate in Arizona? There’s already so much to think about when it comes to settling an estate. The more you know about what to expect, the smoother the process can go.

Settling an estate means that the executor (also known as the administrator) pays off estate taxes and debts. During this process, the executor will gather the deceased person’s assets and distribute them to the person’s named heirs. While it sounds simple enough, the role of executor often comes with a lot of responsibilities, accounting, and costs.

How does Probate Affect Cost?

Probate is the process of the courts distributing the decedent’s assets to the legal heirs. Probate can take a long time and cost a lot, especially for larger or more complex estates. Here are some costs you’ll need to think about if the estate must go through probate:

Filing Fees

The filing fees for probate can cost up to a few hundred dollars in Maricopa County (amounts may vary in other counties). You’ll also have to pay (around $30 or so) to get certified copies of the necessary documents.

Newspaper Notice

Part of the probate process is publishing a notice of the process in the local paper (which may cost up to $60). Arizona has either formal or informal probate processes. Informal is the more common type and won’t require a hearing, while formal probate will involve at least one hearing.

Attorney’s Fees

If you choose to work with an attorney during probate, you may have to add legal fees to the other costs. If you’re going to want legal representation for the probate process, make sure you ask how much the service costs. The cost for legal fees will vary from law firm to law firm and may be given based on an hourly or flat fee rate structure depending on what you need help with.

Whether you’re stuck on the probate process or need help avoiding it, working with a probate attorney is a good way to get some clarity.

Can You Do Probate Yourself?

Not every probate situation calls for a probate or estate planning lawyer. For smaller estates, the process will be straightforward and fairly simple. If the estate in question has a lot of debts compared to assets (like funeral costs), speaking with an attorney is a good idea.

For many individuals, adding the stress of filling out legal documents for the estate isn’t an option for them. In these cases, having an attorney to help you work through the probate court process is helpful. It will also reduce the odds of the process negatively impacting family relationships (as probate often does).

How Can You Avoid Probate?

Understandably, probate is something that most people would rather avoid altogether. There are some steps you can take to bypass it, such as creating a living trust (also called a revocable trust). You may name beneficiaries for your assets, such as bank accounts, cars, and more. Planning ahead is the best way to avoid probate.

While no one enjoys thinking about their own death, you’ll make the situation a lot easier for your loved ones if you keep your estate out of probate.

Right of Survivorship

Another strategy for avoiding probate is owning your assets jointly with right of survivorship applied. Right of survivorship will determine what happens to real estate after one party who owns jointly-owned property passes. The right means that if you own property with someone and they pass on, you acquire that property once they die. Right of survivorship happens automatically after death. 

It takes precedence over other property claims and creates a change in property ownership much quicker than probate. You may only have right of survivorship with a contract between you and the other owner(s) that specifies simultaneous property ownership. The tenancy must be official and legally sound. If you own property jointly and it’s legal and official, you already have right of survivorship. If you don’t, you may want to consider it to avoid probate in the future.

Does an Executor Get Paid for Their Work?

Arizona allows an estate executor to receive “reasonable” payment for their work handling the estate. The factors that determine compensation will include the skills required for distributing the estate, the difficulty of the task, and how much time and effort the executor has to put in. In addition, the capabilities and experience of the executor, the size of the estate, and the standard compensation for similar work may be considered.

Should You Accept the Role of Executor?

If you’re closing your friend or family member’s estate, keep in mind that the process can take a lot of time and planning. Settling an estate may be more of a complicated of an affair in some family situations. If the deceased person had a lot of debts and an extensive list of assets, you may not be able to take on the role in addition to your current job. Additionally, they may have owned property in more than one state or have beneficiaries living out of state, which would further complicate matters. 

Look over the duties and obligations of executor carefully before deciding whether or not to accept. If it’s not someone you feel obligated to, you may want to calculate the compensation you’d receive against an estimate of the time you’d need to spend and see if it’s worth it.

Do You Have Questions About Your Arizona Estate?

Estate planning is essential for protecting your loved ones from the costly probate process. Our estate planning team can draft a living trust for you, help you come up with a way to avoid or mitigate estate taxes, and ensure that your assets and savings are safe from creditors once you pass.

If you’re dealing with an estate that involves disgruntled family members or the amount of assets in the estate won’t cover its debts, it may be especially important to speak with a lawyer. Another circumstance a legal professional could help you with is dealing with federal estate tax.

Call Arizona Estate Attorney Dave Weed at (480)467-4325 to discuss your case today.

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