A probate lawyer in Arizona can assist families or other interested parties in seeking appointment by the Court as a Personal Representative of a deceased person’s Estate. Probate lawyers navigate the Court-ordered probate process through which Estate debts are settled and assets are distributed to creditors, heirs, and beneficiaries. People that are appointed to serve as Executors of a Will and/or Personal Representative of a probate estate do not necessarily need to hire a probate lawyer to assist them in the process, but seeking legal advice is beneficial in a number of ways. Here are some examples:
1. Probate lawyers make the probate process more efficient.
Probate has a reputation for being slow, labor-intensive, and complicated. But that does not need to be the case. Like any administrative process, the more times you shepherd an estate through probate, the more efficient the process becomes. Probate attorneys who have years of experience navigating the Arizona probate system can simplify and streamline the process at every stage from providing a preview of the Court process, preparing filings for appointment of Personal Representative and distribution of assets according to a Will or in accordance with Arizona law. The benefit to the Personal Representative of utilizing a probate lawyer is fewer headaches with the required filings/orders and contact with potential heirs and beneficiaries, less frustration with the Court process, and a more efficient resolution of the Estate. A common client we help are people who have attempted to self-file and been rejected by the court. By doing it right the first time a good Probate lawyer will cut your time with the court.
2. Probate lawyers mediate family conflicts.
Probate attorneys frequently get an unfortunate, front row seat to seeing families torn apart by conflicts over a deceased loved one’s personal belongings and assets. Sometimes these conflicts arise because the loved one did not leave a Will, or heirs (family members) who may have inherited under Arizona law, are cut out of their inheritance by Will. There can be uncertainties surrounding how the Will was executed. Not all of these conflicts are avoidable – family feuds often run deep and some relationships cannot be repaired. An experienced probate law attorney that possesses the skills and tact to explain and manage the probate process to calm heightened emotions, and create settlements of disputes that meet the individual needs of each case.
3. Probate lawyers facilitate agreements between heirs.
Probate lawyers often find themselves counseling family members who cannot agree on how assets should be divided. For example, if Dad left the family business to be split between two siblings but one sibling does not want to be a part of the business, that sibling could request their other sibling to purchase their share of the business. Or, what if Mom left the family home to three siblings, but only one of them can realistically live in it? A deceased person’s estate, whether according to the terms of a Will or through Arizona’s “intestacy” laws (which apply when there is no Will), can leave the deceased person’s heirs and beneficiaries in relatively different positions. Lawyers can assist in communicating with heirs, beneficiaries and/or their attorneys to attempt efficient administration of the Estate.
4. Probate lawyers represent Personal Representatives, Creditors, Heirs, and/or Beneficiaries in Court.
Most Wills provide for a straightforward and relatively non-controversial distribution of a person’s assets after death. But not all do. In some cases, a Will Contest arises, forcing parties to seek a Court’s intervention to determine who will inherit what portion of the assets remaining in the Estate. The vast majority of people cannot handle a contested Court case on their own. A person representing themselves is call a “Pro Per.” Discovery deadlines, presentation of evidence, adherence to the Rules of the Court while handling emotionally-charged disagreements can be overwhelming for a Pro Per. Representing yourself in a Will Contest matter can be costly and certain rights may not be preserved.
5. Probate attorneys make calls on technical issues.
Oftentimes, the individual named in the Will as the Executor struggles to understand the technical details of probate. That is no surprise, and it is not a reflection of the executor’s skill or intelligence. Even experienced probate lawyers can find the details of certain trusts and tax-advantage ownership structures confusing. Probate lawyers can locate answers that can save money for the Estate and avoid errors that can “cloud” title to real property. There are various categories of assets that do not go through probate in Arizona. At the outset of a case, a probate lawyer can help sort through the technical legal distinctions to classify which assets must pass through the probate process, and which assets can pass outside of probate.
6. Probate lawyers manage creditor’s claims.
People rarely die debt-free. Sometimes, a person will pass away with debts that exceed the value of their Estate. This person’s creditors generally have a right to get paid, but that does not mean that a creditor has a right to all of the deceased person’s Estate assets. Heirs and beneficiaries of an Estate can negotiate down a creditor’s claim. Probate lawyers are knowledgeable about when and how creditors can make a valid claim against an Estate. A probate lawyer can serve as the go-between the Personal Representative and the Creditor to negotiate and settle claims, and take necessary action to shield certain assets that are “exempt” from collection by creditors.
7. Probate attorneys navigate complex tax issues.
Despite widespread beliefs to the contrary, the vast majority of probate estates are not subject to any estate (a.k.a “death”) tax. Only the largest estates with at least $5 million in assets face a potential estate tax burden. Those estates would need sophisticated legal advice from an experienced Arizona probate lawyer to navigate claims by state and federal taxing authorities. Oftentimes, large estates subject to estate taxes have made substantial preparations in advance to shield assets from tax levies by placing them in tax-advantaged ownership structures. Probate lawyers (many of whom prepared the paperwork for these structures before their client passed away) must, on occasion, explain and defend those structures in discussions with taxing authorities. This is work that requires great skill because there are significant dollar amounts and complicated tax implications at stake in the distribution of large estates.
These are some of the reasons and issues that arise that make hiring a skilled probate lawyer a benefit to the administration of an Estate. No matter what your relationship is to the deceased person’s Estate – as Creditor, Executor, Heir and/or Beneficiary – you could benefit substantially from the advice and counsel of an experienced Arizona probate attorney. Contact the Arizona Law Doctor today to learn more about how we may help with your probate matter. We offer full and limited probate service options.