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Probate, Trust & Estate Administration

Probate administration is the process whereby probate is opened, a personal representative is appointed and the assets of a person who has died are collected and administered.  Probate is typically only necessary when the person who died owned assets that were not held in trust or for which a beneficiary was not already designated. The personal representative is sometimes called the executor.  Similarly, trust administration is the process whereby the trustee under the trust administers and distributes the assets held under the trust.  Basically, the personal representative serves as the manager of the property and money of the person who died that is not held in trust and the trustee serves as the manager of the property held in trust.  Non-probate and non-trust assets (such as accounts on which a beneficiary is already named) are not administered as part of the probate or trust administration.  The same person oftentimes serves as both personal representative and trustee.

Those serving as personal representative and/or trustee in Arizona owe various duties and have several powers.

Probate and trust administration are similar in many ways.  The main difference is that probate generally requires the appointment of a personal representative by the court.  On the other hand, trusts are typically administered without court involvement.

The Administration Process

In Arizona, probate and trust administration typically involves several steps, which may be involved and complicated.  Of course, each estate or trust is different. Here is a list of some of the things that the personal representative or trustee may need to do or should do:

  • Give notice of death to family, medical providers and others.
  • Arrange and pay for funeral or other services.
  • Open probate (estate):  The steps to open probate depend on, among other things, whether the original last will and testament can be located and how long ago the person died.  Opening probate involves several steps.
  • Give notice of death and appointment of successor trustee (trust).
  • Identify, collect and take possession of estate or trust assets.  Watch our video on collecting estate assets.  Sometimes, this involves filing claims against third-parties that either owe money to the estate or trust or refuse to turn over property or documents necessary for administration.  Sometimes, it is difficult to determine what assets are part of the estate.  It is often helpful to investigate assets by:
    • Reviewing tax returns, bank statements, investment records, cancelled checks and other records;
    • Contacting attorneys, accountants, financial advisers and other professionals that worked with the person who died;
    • Hiring a company to perform an asset search; and
    • Reviewing real property records.
  • Investigate and evaluate joint accounts.
  • Submit life insurance claims.
  • Identify and give notice to creditors.
  • Handle or arrange for asset and investment management.
  • Financial reporting.
  • Arrange for filing tax returns and payment of taxes.
  • Pay costs of administration of the estate and/or trust.
  • Pay proper creditor claims (for example, certain life insurance is exempt from creditor claims).
  • Adjust for certain loans or advancements to beneficiaries.
  • Resolve issues concerning interpretation of the will and/or trust.
  • Distribute the property according to the will (or, in cases where the person had no will, per intestate laws) and/or trust.
  • Prepare and submit accounting.
  • File closing statement with the court (estate).

This is just a summary of some of the steps that may be involved in administering an estate or trust.  In fulfilling their administrative responsibilities, personal representatives and trustees have fiduciary duties.  Oftentimes, much more is involved.  Indeed, probate, estate and trust administration can involve complicated legal issues.  The personal representative and trustee owe fiduciary duties to the beneficiaries and creditors.  It is generally helpful to have an experienced probate/trust attorney guide you through the process.

Learn More About the Probate Administration Process

Watch this video to learn more about the probate process in Arizona:

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Contact Us for Help in Probate and Trust Administration

The estate and trust administration process can be complicated, confusing and stressful. We try to give personal representatives and trustees peace of mind and help avoid the stress of dealing with administration. We assist personal representatives (executors), trustees and/or beneficiaries, including to open probate, work through and defend creditor claims, prosecute claims against third-parties, identify and recover estate assets, identify beneficiaries, interpret the last will and testament and trust, file reports with the Court and much more. We know other professionals that are often important to administration, such as tax attorneys, accountants, investment advisers, real estate agents, insurance agents and others.

Our firm’s experienced attorneys provide skillful assistance to personal representatives, trustees, heirs and beneficiaries in probate and trust administration in Arizona. We have also effectively represented beneficiaries, heirs, personal representatives, and trustees in various contested or disputed probate matters, including probate litigation, will contests and challenges, trust contests, elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation, guardianships and conservatorships and other contested disputes.

If you have a question or problem involving probate or trust administration or simply need someone to guide and assist you through the process in Arizona, we are here to help.  Contact our firm.  We often handle uncontested probate matters on a flat fee basis.