Although many people believe that creating a will helps them to avoid a probate, this is absolutely false. A will does not avoid a probate at all.
A will does allow you to select a personal representative (Arizona’s legal term for executor), appoint the legal guardian for your minor children after you and your spouse are both gone, and set forth your wishes for the distribution of your estate when you pass away. However, a will does not avoid a probate. Thus, with some exceptions, if you have assets that are worth more than $75,000 titled in your name ($100,000 for the net equity in any real estate), then your estate will have to go through some sort of probate process when you die even if you have executed a will. If your assets do not exceed these limits, then, depending on your circumstances, you may be able to use a small estate affidavit to transfer these assets to your family. I have previously discussed small estate affidavits in another blog.
You may ask – “Then how can I avoid a probate?” Although there are different ways to avoid a probate, in general the best way to avoid a probate is to create a revocable living trust. However, trusts are not for everyone, and it all depends on your individual circumstances. Although there are some additional costs to setting up a trust and funding it ahead of time, a trust will allow you to pass on all of the assets titled in the trust to the beneficiaries of your choice without ever needing to go through any probate process. This can save your estate lots of money in administrative costs and lots of time. In addition, the administration of a trust is private and generally does not require any court filings or court hearings. Finally, a revocable living trust may also save you estate taxes (for larger estates), will work well if you or your spouse are ever incapacitated, and will provide you with lots of flexibility in distributing your assets to your beneficiaries.
Our firm has helped hundreds of families just like yours handle a wide variety of estate planning, probate, and trust administration issues. In particular, we have the experience in handling all different kinds of estate planning, probate, trust administration, guardianship, and conservatorship matters. When families are not getting along, we can also help you to handle any disputes and litigation related to these types of matters as well. Please give me a call, so that I can help you work through these difficult issues with confidence.