When you pass away, all of your individually-owned assets are “locked” until someone receives court authority to access them. In probate, that individual is known as your estate’s personal representative (also known as an executor in other states). Whether you nominate the personal representative in your will or a family member petitions to serve as the personal representative, he or she can’t take control of your assets until the probate court formally appoints them and issues Letters Testamentary to prove their authority. As such, the personal representative won’t be able to access or sell any estate assets until probate is opened.

Note that this rule only applies to a decedent’s individually-owned assets—it does not apply to assets with a joint owner with rights of survivorship (JTWROS). Probating the decedent’s share of ownership in JTWROS property isn’t necessary, and the joint owner is free to sell the asset immediately after the decedent passes away (though the title company may need to see a copy of the death certificate).

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Carlos V.
01:02 09 Jul 20
I engaged Attorney Ryan Hodges of Jackson White in AZ, to assist me in settling my brothers estate. I live in MA and have no knowledge of AZ law. Attorney Hodges did a tremendous job from start to finish. There were no unexpected surprises from start to conclusion. He explained everything in great, easy to understand detail as to what to expect and what I needed to do. His responsiveness to questions were always received the same day. And regarding fees, I felt they were reasonable with no hidden or unexpected fees or expenses. I highly recommend Attorney Hodges for handling your estate needs.read more
Phil B.
23:01 02 Jul 20
My lawyer, Ryan Hodges is the best!!!! He helped me through an emotional time and handling my uncle's estate. He is very understanding, committed and he did not treat me like a"just a client.... he treated me with respect and understanding of what I was going through. He always responded to any questions or concerns I had. He was clear in any of explanation of what I needed to do and guided me all the way to the very end. I know my uncle would have liked him and would be proud that I had hired him on to help me take care of his estate. I would recommend mr. Hodges to Everybody!!!!read more
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23:24 24 Jun 20
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Steve M.
19:57 01 Jun 20
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Kim S.
01:11 14 May 20
I connected with Ryan Hodges through a google search - I required help transferring property. I'm very happy I did - he made the entire process smooth and easy. He expertly answered my questions, provided solid advice, and kept me informed through each step. I'd highly recommend him/JacksonWhite.read more
Markus S.
23:32 08 May 20
Jackson White have always been very professional and helpful. Ryan Hodges, Probate Attorney, answered all my questions and more. I would recommend Jackson White for any and all of your legal needs and Ryan for all your probate needs . They are 5 out of 5 in my book!read more
D P.
06:00 23 Apr 20
I worked with Ryan Hodges of JacksonWhite Law to assist me and my family in dealing with the estate of my deceased brother. All my questions were answered promptly and courteously. It was very easy to schedule time with him by phone. Let's face it: you don't anticipate being the executor of an estate, and you certainly don't train for it to get ready to deal with the unexpected. Hiring Mr. Hodges immediately took much of the burden off my shoulders. I highly recommend him if you become the executor of an estate.read more
Rick B.
03:57 07 Apr 20
I did not meet personally with anyone from the JacksonWhite Law firm. Mr. Hodges was my contact at the firm. The entire probate process was handled through emails and USPS since I am out of state. The probate process went very smooth. The process was clearly explained, I understood my responsibility and I was kept up to date on the status. I was particularly impressed with the timeliness of email responses to my emails.read more
Diane E.
21:39 29 Jan 20


What is Probate?

Probate is the process of settling a decedent’s liabilities and distributing their remaining assets. Most probate cases are guided by the decedent’s last will and testament, where the testator (the person writing the will) nominates a personal representative, chooses a guardian for minor children (if applicable), and bequeaths his or her assets. When someone dies without a will, their estate is considered “intestate” and will be probated according to the state’s intestacy laws.

In the state of Arizona, probate is guided by the Uniform Probate Code (UPC). The UPC has been adopted in its entirety by 18 states and partially by most other states, and is intended to unify probate proceedings across state lines. The guidelines in the UPC are codified in Arizona Revised Statutes Title 14 (ARS 14).

How to Be Appointed as Personal Representative of an Estate

If you have been nominated to serve as the personal representative to an estate, or if you wish to be appointed personal representative to an intestate estate, you’ll need to file a petition for probate with the probate court in the county where the decedent lived or owned property. Every county has its own forms and requirements, so it’s best to check the county probate court’s website or call the court clerk to determine exactly what you need to submit. As an example, here’s what the Maricopa County probate court requires:

How to Sell a Car in Probate

Once you have been formally appointed by the court, the process of selling the decedent’s car is mostly the same as how you’d go about selling your own vehicle:

  1. Determine the fair market value – in most cases, checking the car’s value on a site like Kelley Blue Book is the only due diligence you’ll need to do. If the car is a rare or specialty vehicle, you may need to have the vehicle professionally appraised.
  2. Place an ad for sale – keep in mind that you’ll want to place a for-sale-ad even if you already have a private sale lined up. If you sell the car without attempting to get a better offer, you may be in trouble if an interested party to the estate files a complaint and is able to prove that you sold the car for less than you could have.
  3. Collect the proceeds – when you sell the vehicle, have the buyer write the check out to the estate. If you get cash for the sale, deposit the funds in the estate checking account as soon as possible.
  4. Record a bill of sale – it’s important to document everything you do on behalf of the estate, and collecting receipts is a big part of that responsibility.
  5. Sign over the title – as the personal representative, you have the right to sign over the title by signing your own name (i.e. you don’t have to sign the decedent’s name). It’s best to print your name, sign the document, and then add “personal representative.”
  6. Have the title notarized – both the personal representative and the buyer should sign in the presence of a notary public, and have the transfer notarized.

After you have sold the car and transferred the title, don’t forget to call the auto insurance company and cancel the decedent’s insurance policy. Auto insurance companies may be willing to issue a refund for premiums paid after the vehicle was sold, but the process is a whole lot easier when you cancel the policy promptly. Note that you may need to provide the insurance company with a copy of the death certificate and your Letters Testamentary to validate your authority.

What to Do If There is a Lien on the Car

If there’s a lien on the car, you’ll need to settle the note and obtain a clear title before you can sell the car. Call the bank or finance company that’s carrying the note, request a payoff amount, and submit the appropriate payment along with a copy of the death certificate and the Letters Testamentary. Upon receiving these, the finance company will issue a clear title, made out to the estate. If you need to use the proceeds of the sale to pay off the car loan, as the buyer to meet you at the bank or finance company to complete the sale.

The Small Estate Exemption

The state of Arizona offers a small estate exemption that allows smaller estates to complete the probate process by affidavit rather than actually going through probate. To qualify, the estate must have less than $100,000 in real property (house, land, condo) and less than $75,000 in personal property (vehicles, financial accounts, personal possessions, etc.). The party managing the estate will need to wait at least 6 months after the decedent’s passing in order to allow enough time for the decedent’s creditors to submit claims to the estate. Once the estate’s debts, taxes, and bills are paid, the managing party is free to sell the assets, distribute the proceeds, and file the small estate affidavit with the county probate court.

Call Probate Attorney Ryan Hodges at (480)467-4365 to discuss your case today.

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