Overview of Arizona Estate Planning Laws

arizona estate planning lawsEstate planning is a dense but incredibly important piece of law.  Quality estate planning can help individuals provide for their future and their family’s future in an efficient and sustainable manner.  This blogpost will provide an overview of the important sources of law for Arizona estate planning and definitions of important estate planning terms.

Arizona Statutes

Title 14 is the meaty piece of statutory law that governs Arizona estate planning.  Title 14 – Trusts, Estates, and Protective Pleadings covers a variety of areas.  Major sections include intestate succession, probate of wills and trusts, and protection for those who are under disability during a judicial proceeding.

Intestate Succession

What happens if you never create a will or plan your estate? The vast majority of individuals in America never plan out their estate while they were alive.  If this occurs, the condition is called “intestacy”.  If a person dies with a will but this will is deemed invalid by a court of law, then this person’s estate would default to intestate succession.  Some individuals may choose to plan a will for part of their estate, but not all.  The part of the estate not included in the will would be the intestate estate.

What does intestate succession really mean? It is a default way for the court to distribute property of a deceased individual.  In Arizona, if a person dies without a will or with certain property not covered by the will, the estate will pass to the decedent’s spouse or other heirs.

A person may also expressly limit the right of a person or a class of people to receive property during intestate succession.  Arizona law expressly provides for this in A.R.S. 14-2101(B). If a person elected to provide in a binding and valid document that during intestate succession a person or class would be excluded, then the probate of the will and distribution of property would pass through that excluded person to the next individual in-line for succession.

Who really gets what? This is the big question that intestate succession puts in front of a court.  If the decedent has a surviving spouse, the intestate estate passes to the spouse.  If the decedent has no surviving spouse, then the intestate estate passes to the decedent’s children.  What about if the deceased spouse left surviving children that were not children of the surviving spouse? What if the deceased has no surviving spouse and no surviving children? This is where statute and common law of Arizona come into place.  A court will be required to determine the distribution of property.

As many law students are aware, intestate succession can travel down a variety of different avenues dependent on the situation of the family.  To ensure that a person’s estate is distributed in the way they really want,  developing a will or trust is a great tool to use.

Wills

Wills are an instrument of estate planning.  Wills, also sometimes known as a “last will and testament” are instruments that have been around for centuries.  A will can look like many different things, but essentially it describes what you want to happen to your estate when you die.  A will can name heirs, guardians for minor children, and an executor.

An executor is a person named who can collect and distribute assets.  However, while wills can be extremely simple or extremely complicated, a will still must be valid under the law of Arizona before it can be enforced by the court.

Generally, a will must be made or dictated by a competent person, or testator, who was of legal age and capable mind to make a will.  The will must then be properly executed, including witnesses and required signatures.  There must be testamentary intent, which means that the testator must express the intentions to distribute the property.

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