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Special Rules for Intestate Succession

When someone dies without a will (what is called “intestate”), the administration of the estate may be complicated under Arizona probate law.  For example, questions may arise about who are the heirs in the intestate estate.  Read our basic overview of Arizona intestate estates for more information.  Also, it is generally helpful to contact an experienced Arizona probate attorney for help.  Will and estate planning - Berk Law Group, P.C.

Indeed, there are certain factors that may add to the confusion about qualifications to be an heir and how to administer a probate in Arizona where the person died without a will or without a valid will.  Some factors include: the effect of alienage on distribution of the estate, relationship to the deceased through two lines, parent and child relationships and adoption.  These issues are discussed below.

Alienage

Pursuant to ARS § 14-2111, a person is not disqualified to receive their share of an estate because that person or another person through whom the person claims is or has been an alien.  This means that if the deceased has an heir who lives in another country, they are not disqualified to recover the estate.  For example, if the deceased’s sole heir is a brother who resides in Mexico, that brother is not disqualified from recovering the estate.

In one case decided by the Arizona Court of Appeals in 1974, a person died without a will.  In the Arizona probate, because there were no known heirs, the entire estate escheated (went to the State of Arizona).  Later, it was discovered that the deceased had heirs in Russia.  Their representative brought a claim to recover the assets of the estate from the State of Arizona.  Because they were able to prove that they were the heirs of the deceased and other factors that were relevant under prior law, the Court awarded the estate to the Russian heirs.

Relation Through Two Lines

An heir who is related to the decedent through two lines of relationship is only entitled to a single share of the estate, pursuant to ARS § 14-2113.  For example, if an heir is related to the decedent through both their mother and father, whichever relationship would yield the largest share would be the single share that the heir receives.

Parent/Child Relationship and Adoptions

The parent and child relationship is an important factor in Arizona intestate succession.  ARS § 14-2114 provides that “a person is the child of that person’s natural parents, regardless of their marital status.”

If there is a question of whether a child is the natural child of a person, the issue is determined in an action for maternity or paternity under ARS § 25-801 through 25-818.

However, there is an exception to the rule that a person is the child of his/her natural parents for purposes of an Arizona inheritance.  If a person is adopted, they are considered to be the child of the adopting parents and not of the natural parents.  Specifically, Section 14-2114(B), provides that “an adopted person is the child of that person’s adopting parent or parents and not of the natural parents.”  So, if a child is adopted, if the natural parent dies without a will, that child is not considered an heir of the natural parent.

But, many rules also contain exceptions.  And, Section 14-2114(B) also has an exception: “Adoption of a child by the spouse of either natural parent has no effect on the relationship between the child and that natural parent or on the right of the child or a descendant of the child to inherit from or through the other natural parent.”  So, if the child’s natural mother marries someone other than the child’s natural father and that spouse adopts the child, the child would be entitled to an intestate share of the natural mother’s estate and still an heir of the natural father.

Section 14,2114(c) also contains a rule dealing with when a parent may inherit from his/her child in Arizona” “Inheritance from or through a child by either natural parent or the natural parent’s kindred is precluded unless that natural parent has openly treated the child as a natural child and has not refused to support the child.”  Obviously, this is intended to bar a parent from inheriting from his/her child if the parent has abandoned the child.

Our Arizona Probate Lawyers are Here to Help

This article addresses some of the rules that apply where a person dies without a will.  If the person dies with a valid will in Arizona, typically the terms of the will govern the estate, even if the foregoing rules would otherwise apply.  For example, if the natural parent dies with a will and leaves property to an adopted child, the adopted child would be entitled to whatever property is granted under the will.

The qualifications to be an heir in intestate succession can be confusing. If you have questions or need more information, Call or Email Us or Sign Up for Our Newsletter to receive interesting updates on Arizona probate law.