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When Helping Yourself Doesn’t Help

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Will and estate planning - Berk Law Group, P.C.The Arizona probate process is strictly governed by laws enacted by the legislature and by rules adopted by the Arizona Supreme Court. Individuals are not prohibited from entering into this technical area, but there are many pitfalls out there.

The Arizona Court of Appeals recently decided a case that illuminates the perils of self-help. In the Matter of the Estate of Norma Jean McConnell, her son filed several documents with the court that he had created himself, demanding to be appointed as the personal representative to administer her estate under her last will and testament.

The Judge could have dismissed the proceeding because the son had not filed the will with the Court as required, had not been appointed as personal representative and he was incarcerated, so it was unlikely that he could fulfill the duties of personal representative. However, the Judge, in an attempt to be helpful, appointed the Maricopa County Public Fiduciary’s office to investigate and file a report.

Maricopa County maintains an office, the public fiduciary, whose job it is to look after the neediest of the population who have no one else to turn to. Where appropriate, the Court may appoint the public fiduciary to serve.

In the McConnell case, the public fiduciary’s investigation found that Norma owned no real estate in the County; her abandoned assets had been turned over to the Arizona Department of Revenue (unclaimed property), but it was valued less than $75,000; no other assets were located; and, the assets that were found could be claimed by a Small Estate Affidavit of Collection, without the need for a probate.  The court then denied son’s demand that he be appointed as Personal Representative.

He appealed the case.  The decision there upheld the lower court rulings. Without the will being filed, the son could not be appointed to administer the will. Further, his incarceration prevented him from performing the duties required by statute.

Although everyone has access to court-approved forms and instructions for filing a probate case by stopping by the closest court facility or going online for self-help forms, sometimes it is best to consult an experienced Arizona probate lawyer. Each document has certain statutory requirements. Various deadlines apply. Not every estate is subject to a probate proceeding. As in this case, in Arizona, where non-real estate assets total less than $75,000, and other requirements are satisfied, there is a quick and easy way, a small estate affidavit, to transfer the assets to the beneficiaries without the need to open probate or to have a personal representative appointed.

Estate administration and litigation is what we do at Berk Law Group. Sometimes the best help is not your “self” but someone who knows what to do. If you have any questions or need any assistance in a small or large estate, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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