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2018 Probate and Trust Legislation Update

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The process of transferring property from a deceased person to his or her beneficiaries is governed by Arizona statutes.  Although the general procedures in Arizona are similar to those in most other states because of the adoption of the Uniform Probate Code and the Uniform Trust Code, most states make their own tweaks and changes.

Senate Bill 1204 was introduced to the 2018 Arizona 53rd Legislature, 2nd Regular Session, to address several issues affecting probate and trust administration and to make some changes to Arizona’s version of the uniform laws.  The Bill was passed by both houses of the legislature and signed by the Governor, meaning the changes will become law effective August 3, 2018.  Here are some of the key revisions affecting the Arizona Probate and Trust Codes.

Arizona Probate Code Changes

Arizona Revised Statute (“A.R.S.”) § 14-2517 has dealt with the enforceability of penalty clauses in wills, commonly called “no contest” clauses and less commonly called “in terrorem” clauses.  This statute states that such clauses are not enforceable if the beneficiary bringing the challenge had “probable cause” to bring the challenge.  The Bill clarifies the challenge can come as a “contest, proceeding or action.”

The Bill also clarifies which rules are applicable to probate proceedings.  Over the past several years, the Arizona Supreme Court has established and amended the various rules that had been created by various county Superior Courts into a statewide Arizona Rules of Probate Procedure.  Accordingly, the amended A.R.S. § 14-1304 states that the Arizona Rules of Probate Procedure now apply to all probate matters.

Arizona has three methods to implement the terms of a decedent’s will.  The first is a summary administration for certain enumerated small estates.  The second is known as informal probate and, if certain requirements are satisfied, allows a matter to proceed without the involvement of a judicial officer.  Finally, there is the formal probate proceeding which involves a judge because of special circumstances or contests.  Because no hearing is mandated in informal proceedings, A.R.S. § 14-3306 does not require notice prior to beginning the process.  However, after the application has been accepted by the court, notice of the proceeding must be given to heirs or devisees.  The Bill clarifies the timing and to whom notice is given in informal probates.  If you want to learn more about the different types of probate in Arizona, watch our video.

The Bill made one major change to A.R.S. § 14-3403 which applies to a notice of hearing on the petition for a formal proceeding.  Previously, the statute required the publication of the notice one time at least fourteen days prior to the hearing.  This requirement was to notify “unknown” persons of the court proceedings. [Read more…]

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Do It Yourselfers Beware! – Holographic Will Held Invalid

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When a loved one dies, it is a time of grieving, pain and sorrow.  The grief and sorrow can turn to frustration and even anger when the deceased’s wishes for his estate are not followed.  Sometimes the person’s wishes are not followed because the person did not have testamentary capacity (was of unsound mind) or was unduly influenced.  Other times, the person’s wishes are not followed because those wishes were not properly adopted in a legally enforceable will.  Irrespective of the reason for the question or dispute, it is often helpful to consult with an experienced Arizona probate attorney.

The question in Wagoner v. Aleman, decided by the Arizona Court of Appeals on May 19, 2015, was whether Jeanine Jones’ partially typed and partially hand-written will was valid and enforceable under Arizona probate law.

In that case, Elisa Aleman was Jones’ natural granddaughter.  Elisa’s natural mother died shortly after Elisa was born and Elisa was legally adopted six months later.  Despite the adoption, Jones reconnected with Elisa and they remained close until Jones died on August 31, 2012.

Before she died, Jones prepared what was labeled a “Last Will and Testament” on a computer.  The document provided that Elisa was to inherit 50% of the sale of Jones’ property in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.  Later, Elisa stated that she was present when Jones made handwritten changes to the Will.  The changes reduced Elisa’s share to 25%.  Jones initialed all of the changes, except one that remained basically unchanged from the original document.  Only Jones and a notary signed the document.

After Jones died, her sister opened probate, claiming that Jones died intestate (without a will).  Elisa then filed a petition seeking to admit the typed/handwritten will to probate, whereby she would inherit 25% of the sale proceeds of the Lake Havasu City, Arizona property.  Elisa claimed that the will was a valid holographic will and Jones’ sister objected.  Elisa also argued that even if the will was not valid and Jones died without a will that she was Jones’ heir under Arizona’s intestatcy laws, such that Elisa was entitled to Jones’ estate.

[Read more…]

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Lou Reed Leaves $30 million—and Only a Will

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Berk Law Group, P.C. Announcement

Lou ReedLou Reed, famous for 70’s hits like “Walk on the Wild Side,” died on October 27, 2013, leaving behind an estate worth at least $30 million that generated around $20 million in income since he died. Wealth like that is often secured by a complex estate plan, designed to reduce the possibility of disputes and avoid probate and litigation.

Many celebrities spark massive probate litigation after they pass away by either planning too little for someone of their wealth or cutting someone out of the plan who thought they should be included. These cases often end up in trust litigation, since the wealthy often use revocable living trusts and irrevocable trusts as their preferred planning devices.

The strange thing about Lou Reed’s estate plan is that it was solely comprised of a will. According to news reports, Mr. Reed didn’t have even a revocable living trust.

So what’s the result for Mr. Reed’s surviving family members and loved ones? First, the process in probate court (called Surrogacy Court in New York, where Mr. Reed’s estate is being administered) is entirely public. Reporters, jealous members of his extended family, and unscrupulous people all have access to the particulars of Mr. Reed’s estate. [Read more…]

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Probate Challenges and Estate Litigation – Do Wills Always End Up in Court?

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Berk Law Group, P.C. Announcement

Mesa, AZ Probate Dispute | Probate Dispute Attorney | Berk & Moskowitz, PCFor anyone who has heard the estate planning maxim that failing to plan is planning to fail—and for some families the goal of estate planning is probate-avoidance—there still tends to be some confusion about probate litigation.

First, probate and estate litigation are not the same things as estate administration through probate. Probate “means proving (a Last Will and Testament’s) genuineness in probate court. Unless otherwise provided by statute, a will must be admitted to probate before a court will allow the distribution of a decedent’s property to the heirs according to its terms.”

A Last Will and Testament is supposed to reflect the complete and true wishes of someone in their sound mind who sets forth their wishes for property upon death.

When someone’s wishes are disputed, misunderstood, vague, or otherwise argued over, the probate court hears evidence of the person’s intent.

It is at the point where challenges and disagreements interfere with the court’s ability to administer the will that probate challenge and estate litigation occur. [Read more…]

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Mickey Rooney’s Family Accused of Elder Abuse, in Court Following Actor’s Death

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Mickey Rooney Estate Drama | Probate Litigation Attorney | Scottsdale, AZ | Berk & Moskowitz, PCTo a certain generation, Mickey Rooney evokes memories of Hollywood’s golden years, where going to the movies was a happy, music-filled, and glamorous experience. Classic film fans mourned the loss of an icon after hearing news of Rooney’s passing on April 6, 2014.

Quickly following on the heels of this tragic news, however, was word that Rooney’s extended family was openly feuding about everything from who would claim his body to who should lay claim to his somewhat meager estate. News of his final years also included stories of possible elder abuse by those same relatives.

The years before his death seem to have foreshadowed his final decline. Since 2011, he had fought legal and personal battles, struggling to maintain his dignity.  In that year, Rooney and his attorneys filed a financial elder abuse lawsuit against Chris Aber, his wife’s son from a previous marriage, and Aber’s wife. The lawsuit accused the Abers of robbing Rooney of millions of dollars and of elder abuse. [Read more…]

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Buyer, Beware! Online Last Will and Testament Ends in Probate Litigation

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Estate Dispute Over Online Will | Scottsdale, AZ Estate Dispute Attorney | Berk & Moskowitz, PC

Online legal forms allow consumers to form a business, create real estate contracts, and make a last will and testament—all from the comfort of their homes and without an attorney. This convenience—paired with the often reduced cost of purchasing do-it-yourself (DIY) forms—might explain the success of the online legal form industry.

Working with online forms, instead of consulting a qualified estate planning attorney, may save time and money in the short term; however, the validity, effect and interpretation of these documents may not be clear.  And defects may not be discovered until it is too late.

This warning isn’t just a self-preservation tactic on the part of attorneys, who might be out of a job if everyone used DIY legal forms.

The well-regarded consumer advocacy group Consumer Reports investigated whether online legal forms operate the way they are intended. Unfortunately, the investigation yielded words of caution to those choosing to take the legal DIY route. [Read more…]

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When Dementia Affects Estate Planning

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Dementia | Elder Law Attorneys | Scottsdale, AZDementia is a devastating disease, not only for the person affected but also for his or her family. And unfortunately, the consequences of the person’s dementia can continue after his or her passing. How?

A person’s dementia can call into question his or her ability to make a will and divide property, which can lead to a will contest.  [Read more…]

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INCOMPLETE WILL IS VALID, ARIZONA COURT HOLDS

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An Arizona court holds that a will that refers to a list still valid, even if the list is actually not attached.  So we ask, is an incomplete last will and testament still valid under Arizona probate law?

In this video, Kent Berk, Scottsdale, Arizona probate and estate lawyer, answers these and other questions, and summarizes the Court’s findings in Re: Estate of Gloria Waterloo,  Zimmerman v. Allen. [Read more…]

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“NO CONTEST” CLAUSE MAY DISCOURAGE WILL OR TRUST CONTEST

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In this post, I will explain how a “no contest” clause may be used to defend against an estate, probate, will or trust contest in Arizona.

Peace of mind and certainty. Those are the main objectives of most anyone who adopts a will or trust.  They simply want to know that whatever they decided will happen to their property upon their death will, in fact, happen.  Probate and estate attorneys who are concerned about will contests or challenges often look for added protection.  In Terrorem or “no contest” clauses may provide one viable method to discourage groundless will contests and trust challenges. [Read more…]

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