Probate is the legal process of settling a deceased individual’s estate. In the state of Arizona, the probate process is based on the Uniform Probate Code (adopted by 18 states) and regulated by Arizona Revised Statutes Title 14.

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Mr. Hodges was a huge asset in helping me handle my mother-in-law's estate. Most impressive, besides his knowledge and follow through with the legal aspects of closing an estate, was his prompt and professional communication. I happily recommend Ryan Hodges at Jackson White Law.read more
Lori F.
17:07 24 Sep 19
I highly recommend Jackson White Attorneys At Law. I worked with Ryan Hodges, Attorney for nearly 2 years on a very complicated estate involving 5 states. Ryan was very responsive to all of my needs, held my hand as I struggled to deal with other states and never let me down. He answers email promptly and files documents as quickly as possible. He also directed me to a good accounting firm that handled the tax returns. I live in Kansas so working with an attorney over 1000 miles away was unsettling at the least but from day one Ryan calmed my fears and guided me effortlessly through this process. I would also like to state that the fees were appropriate and affordable.read more
T S.
01:55 06 Sep 19
Ryan Hodges was more then helpful when my Mom passed away suddenly without a will. His advice directed me to the small estate form, checked back to see if that would work for me and told me to contact him if I needed any help with the paperwork or representation. All of which gave me some peace of mind.read more
Mary K.
19:56 28 Aug 19
Ryan Hodges did an amazing job with my case. Even though I don't live in the greater Phoenix area I still used Ryan services because he came highly recommended. He set up a phone court appearance instead of having me drive 3 hours into Phoenix. In our initial consultation he laid out several different avenues that the case might go. In the end the case went in my favor.read more
Paul J.
21:11 27 Aug 19
To Whom It May Concern:Recently I was in need of legal assistance and Ryan Hodges from Jackson-White Attorney’s at law was invaluable to me. I had sought legal assistance from other sources and was told this was not worth their time. Mr. Hodges helped me through probate when a close friend died and left me as her personal representative.Mr. Hodges is what, in my mind, an attorney should be. He was there to help me through a very difficult time. There were many questions and areas I did not understand and he was always ready to help me, whether it was just a simple text, email or a phone call. He was there. Ryan Hodges is an asset to the team of Jackson-White and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend him to anyone in need of legal assistance.Sincerely,Dee Hutchinsonread more
Dee H.
21:36 29 Jul 19
Ryan Hodges assisted me with deciding what direction to go in the probate of my brothers will. I hope it will not get him in trouble but he advised me that the estate was small enough that we did not need a lawyer. This impressed me as another lawyer wanted $4500 for an estate under $10000! He gave me information and a link for the necessary forms. If I ever need a lawyer I will certainly contact Ryan.read more
Tom S.
13:28 15 Jun 19
I contacted Jackson White Law by email on Thursday evening, with a question. I really didn't expect an answer until Monday at the earliest, but I received an email from Ryan Hodges in response on Friday Morning! I have to say I am impressed. He answered my question thoroughly and was very helpful. He put my mind at ease and I am eternally grateful. I would recommend this law firm and Ryan to anyone seeking legal advise.read more
Elizabeth H.
05:18 01 Jun 19
I have used attorney, Ryan Hodges at Jackson White Law Firm, for various stages of my mother's trust, from beginning to end. He is an excellent attorney to work with; as he is not only professional in every way, but willing to help out at any stage of the legal process. He communicates well and offered advice and leadership to me at all times. I would recommend him to anyone looking for a superior attorney.read more
Kay E.
10:39 25 May 19
With the help of Ryan Hodges of Jackson White Law, I recently completed a very complicated probate which involved probate in two states, the Federal Government and the Canadian Government. There is no way I could have accomplished this without the constant help and guidance from Ryan. He was with me every step of the way. I hope you never have to be involved with this process, I strongly suggest you call Ryan Hodges to assist you. Great job! Thanks Ryan!read more
michael R.
20:25 09 Jun 18
Ryan Hodges is amazing! My mom is elderly and needed help sorting out the details of probate in AZ. Ryan was able to navigate through the paperwork to help my mom get the estate settled. Ryan always returned phone calls and went above and beyond when she needed help.read more
Lee V.
17:48 25 Apr 18
Ryan Hodges of Jackson White Attorneys made a long drive to meet with us as we were grieving the recent loss of our 41-year-old son. He guided us through every step of the probate process. He made each step clear to us and continued to show understanding of our situation, even though unusual complications were frequent, due to the nature of our son's former business. His kindness, knowledge, and efficiency will always be remembered and appreciated.read more
Robert & Rebecca B.
15:04 02 Apr 18

 

Why is Probate Necessary?

When someone dies, an individual acting on their behalf (known as a personal representative) will need to ensure the decedent’s outstanding liabilities are settled and their remaining assets are properly distributed. If the decedent has a will, their assets will flow to their beneficiaries based on the instructions in their will. If the decedent doesn’t have a will, their estate is considered “intestate,” and their assets will be distributed to their legal heirs based on the state’s intestate succession laws. Either way, probate is necessary to make sure the decedent’s assets don’t remain frozen in their name or seized by creditors.

What Happens in Probate?

The actual probate proceedings may vary from case to case depending on the complexity of the estate and contests to the will, but generally speaking there are six steps in the probate process:

  1. Validate the will
  2. Appoint a personal representative
  3. Gather the decedent’s assets
  4. Settle the estate’s liabilities
  5. Distribute the remaining assets
  6. Close the estate

Validating the Will

If the decedent has a will, the court will need to validate the document. As long as all of the interested parties waive the right to an initial hearing, this is a quick process taken care of by a clerk when the petition for probate is submitted. In Arizona, a valid will needs to be properly signed and dated by the testator and two witnesses. If the testator physically can’t sign the will, he or she can have a proxy sign on their behalf (ARS 14-2502).

The testator also needed to be an adult of sound mind operating without undue influence at the time the will was drafted. The court will usually assume that those boxes are checked until someone contests the will and says otherwise. Once the interested parties have received notice of the probate proceedings, they’ll have four months to file a will contest with the court if necessary.

Appointing a Personal Representative

Assuming again that the initial hearing is waived, the individual nominated in the will to serve as the executor will be appointed personal representative by a probate court clerk. Barring any objections or contests, the personal representative will be mostly free to handle the rest of the probate process outside of court. If someone objects to the nominated executor, the court can appoint an administrator instead.

Gathering the Decedent’s Assets

Before the personal representative can start paying bills and distributing assets, they’ll need to take an inventory of the estate’s assets and determine the fair market value. Liquid assets like bank accounts and brokerage accounts are easy to value with the most recent account statements, but illiquid assets like real estate, vehicles, and personal possessions will probably need to be professionally appraised. If the will specifically bequeaths certain assets, the personal representative will usually set these aside and try to use other liquid assets to settle the liabilities.

Settling the Estate’s Liabilities

Nobody likes paying bills, but it’s unavoidable here. The personal representative will use estate funds to pay the probate administration costs (court fees, professional appraisals, etc.), funeral costs, debts, taxes, and outstanding bills. The estate will need to file a final income tax return, and an estate/gift tax return if applicable.

Distributing the Remaining Assets

After all of the liabilities are settled, the personal representative will need to prepare a final accounting and report of their actions. Informal probate cases can proceed with the proposed distribution, but formal supervised probate proceedings will require court review and approval.

Closing the Estate

When the estate’s assets have been successfully transferred to the beneficiaries, the personal representative can petition to close probate. This sounds like a nominal action, but it’s a very important step. When the estate is closed, the actions of the personal representative and the court are conclusive and binding.

What Happens After Probate is Closed?

After probate is closed, interested parties have up to six months to file an objection to the personal representative’s actions. If the estate isn’t properly closed, the statute of limitations is extended up to three years from the decedent’s date of passing. That said, it’s extremely difficult to reclaim assets that have been lawfully distributed to beneficiaries. So, even if you file a successful objection, the court may be unable to redistribute the closed estate’s assets.

How Long Does it Typically Take to Receive Your Inheritance?

Informal probate can usually wrap up in 4 – 6 months. Formal probate is required when there are will contests or objections, and depending on the level of court supervision the case it could take up to a year or longer to close the estate. Once probate is closed, however, you should receive your inheritance within a matter of days or weeks.

What to Do if You Suspect a Stolen Inheritance

Unfortunately, cases of stolen inheritances are not uncommon. In any case where one party ends up with less than what they’re entitled to and another party is unjustly enriched, you should consult with an attorney. Successfully contesting a will is not an easy task, but there are situations where a judge can invalidate a forged, fraudulent, or unduly influenced will. Factors that may result in a successful will contest include:

  • There is a more recent version of the will that was meant to replace the previous version
  • The will was improperly witnessed
  • The testator’s signature or material provisions in the will were forged
  • The testator was under duress or undue external influence
  • The testator was incapacitated and not of sound mind
  • The testator (the person writing the will) is a minor

If you’re reluctant to hire an attorney because they’re too expensive, think again. In cases of stolen inheritances, many attorneys are willing to work on a contingency fee rather than charging an initial retainer fee. If the attorney agrees to work on a contingency fee, they’ll consent to accept their payment as a portion of the final judgement value when the lawsuit concludes (e.g. if you win $10,000, they may keep 30% for services rendered). Not all attorneys work on a contingency fee bases, though, so it’s important to ask in your initial consultation.

 

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

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