Creditors Can Sue an Arizona Estate to Recover Unpaid Bills


Most people have some kind of debt, whether it’s from a credit card, a car loan, or a mortgage. When someone passes on, their estate must pay for those debts if creditors file a claim to get their money. The personal representative (executor) must address beneficiaries’ rights and creditor claims when they administer the estate. According to Arizona law, they must give all known creditors notice of the deadline for filing claims against the estate.

The claimant (person owed a debt) may begin a proceeding to obtain payment from the estate but must do so within the limited period of time they are given. If you had a claim pending against the decedent at the time of their death, you don’t need to present the claim again. Once an estate is closed, the probate court’s decisions are final in most cases.

What to Keep in Mind About Claims Against an Estate

  • When a person passes on and leaves behind debts, creditors may seek compensation by filing a claim against the decedent’s estate
  • There is a time limit on submitting claims to probate court, so acting fast with submitting the claim is important
  • While some probate processes only take a few months, others can take up to a year or longer
  • Probate law can be confusing, so speaking with a probate attorney is a helpful step for many people affected by the process

Executors Must Notice Potential Creditors Upon Death

Under Arizona law, an estate’s personal representative must send a written notice to all known creditors of the estate. It should mention that the decedent has died, the representative will be handling the estate’s affairs, and that probate has been opened. The representative must also publish a notice in “a newspaper of general circulation” in the relevant area, giving unknown or potential creditors four months to present their claims. 

If creditors don’t submit their claims within that time period (which starts at the date of the notice’s first publication), they are forever barred from filing a claim. If you received mailed notice of the decedent’s death, you can make a claim within 60 days, even if the 4-month period already passed.

Steps for Filing a Claim Against a Deceased Person’s Estate

Filing a claim in probate court doesn’t always lead to receiving compensation, but it notifies the estate representative and court about the debt. After you submit your claim, the court will review the debt and decide whether the estate can cover the requested amount. It’s imperative that you file the claim soon (ideally after consulting an attorney), so you don’t miss the deadline. Here are the steps:

  1. Find proof of the amount owed to you by the decedent
  2. Locate the probate court responsible for the estate’s proceedings
  3. Visit the court and bring your proof with you, then ask for a creditor’s claim form and the case number for the probate proceedings
  4. Complete and submit the creditor’s claim form, and ask for a copy to keep for your records

After giving notice, the estate representative must gather, inventory, and manage the assets in the estate. They can only distribute them to the decedent’s beneficiaries after debts have been paid.

Estate Claim Priority

In most cases, creditors must be paid before beneficiaries of the estate. If the estate’s assets aren’t enough to cover all creditors’ claims, Arizona law dictates the order of priority as follows:

  1. Expenses and costs of estate administration
  2. Reasonable costs for funeral arrangements
  3. Taxes and debts with preference according to federal law
  4. Necessary, reasonable hospital and medical expenses from the decedent’s last illness
  5. Taxes and debts with preference according to Arizona law
  6. All remaining claims

How Working With an Attorney Can Help

The rules and regulations surrounding probate can be complicated, especially when it’s a large or complex estate. Creditors have a right to receive compensation for their claims against an estate, but they still must adhere to the deadline and rules. 

Being knowledgeable about probate and how creditor claims work will increase your odds of successfully collecting compensation. If you have any questions related to filing a claim against an estate or deadlines for filing, it may be helpful to speak with a probate attorney.

Frequently Asked Questions on Probate

Here are some of the most common queries regarding the probate process:

Q: Why is the probate process necessary?

Probate is the legal process of settling an estate after someone has passed on and ensures that its assets are correctly distributed and that taxes and debts are taken care of. The personal representative of the estate must notify heirs and creditors of the decedent’s passing and the probate process being opened. Depending on the estate in question, it can take a few short months or quite a bit longer. 

Q: How long will the probate process take?

Unless there are objections to the representative’s actions or contests to the decedent’s will, an estate can settle in as little as 4 months. However, most probate proceedings in Arizona last 6 to 8 months. When contests to the will or disputes arise, court supervision may be required to settle the estate. Depending on how active of a role the court must play in the probate process, proceedings can take a year or more.

Q: What are the personal representative’s responsibilities in settling an estate?

The personal representative of an estate must take care of the decedent’s affairs by notifying necessary parties of the death and probate, collecting assets, reviewing and approving or disputing creditor claims, and distributing or selling estate property.

What to Do if You Need Help

Keep in mind that once a probate case has been closed, the details of the proceedings are usually conclusive. While this article provided general information, every claim is unique. Since you have a limited time to file a claim against an estate, it’s important that you act quickly. If you need help handling the probate court or more information on the state laws regarding this topic, speak with a probate attorney as soon as possible. 

Call Our Probate Team at (480)467-4365 to discuss your case today.

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