At Signature Law Group, we are here to help individuals and families thrive, and our Prescott, AZ estate planning practice is an important component of that mission.
When you think of estate planning, words like “old” and “wealthy” might come to mind. But the simple truth is that estate planning is for adults of every age and income level. No matter how modest you consider your estate to be, you’ve earned those assets and deserve to protect them. Moreover, if you have a family, estate planning is an important way to ensure that they would be protected and cared for in your absence.
What is Probate?
Probate is a legal process that occurs after someone passes away, primarily designed to validate and execute their last will and testament, if they had one, and to distribute their assets to their heirs or beneficiaries. The term "probate" also refers to the court in which this process takes place. The probate process serves several essential functions:
- Validation of the Will: If the deceased person left a will, the probate court examines it to ensure it is legally valid. This process typically involves confirming that the document was executed correctly and that the person creating the will had the legal capacity to do so.
- Appointment of an Executor or Administrator: The court appoints an executor or administrator to manage the deceased person's estate. This person is responsible for gathering and managing assets, paying debts, and distributing assets to beneficiaries in accordance with the will or state laws if there is no will.
- Creditor Notification and Debt Settlement: During probate, creditors and other interested parties are notified of the person's death. Creditors have an opportunity to make claims against the estate to collect any debts owed. The executor or administrator is responsible for settling these debts using estate assets.
- Asset Inventory and Appraisal: The executor or administrator compiles an inventory of all the deceased person's assets, including real estate, personal property, financial accounts, and investments. In some cases, an appraisal may be required to determine the value of specific assets.
- Asset Distribution: Once the debts and expenses of the estate are paid, the remaining assets are distributed to the beneficiaries named in the will or according to the state's laws of intestacy (if there is no will). This distribution is supervised by the probate court to ensure it adheres to legal requirements.
- Final Tax Filings: The executor or administrator must file any necessary tax returns on behalf of the deceased person and the estate, including income taxes, estate taxes, and inheritance taxes.
It's important to note that not all assets go through probate. Some assets, such as life insurance proceeds with designated beneficiaries, jointly owned property with the right of survivorship, and assets held in a living trust, pass outside of the probate process. These assets transfer directly to the designated beneficiaries or co-owners upon the person's death.
The probate process can vary from one jurisdiction to another and can be more or less complex depending on the size and complexity of the estate. It is advisable to consult with an attorney or legal expert experienced in probate matters when dealing with the estate of a deceased person to ensure the process is carried out correctly and efficiently.
What Should Be Included In Your Estate Plan?
These days, estate planning encompasses more than just what happens to your assets after you pass away. It can also include planning for the financial and medical contingencies you may face later in life (sometimes referred to as elder law planning). Your estate plan may include:
- A will
- A named executor of the estate
- One or more trusts
- A living will (or advanced health care directive)
- A designated durable power of attorney
- Medicare planning
We can help you create a customized estate plan that meets your goals and gives you peace of mind. We can also help you update your plan periodically (as circumstances change), even if we didn’t create the original plan.
Additional Estate Law Services in Prescott, AZ
If you recently lost a loved one and have been named as executor of their estate, you may be feeling unsure how to handle your responsibilities. You’re not alone – many people in this position feel the same way. The good news is that an experienced Prescott estate planning attorney can make the process much faster and easier. Our firm works side by side with executors in probate and estate administration matters, ensuring that all duties are carried out as directed and that the decedent’s final wishes are honored.
Contact Us To Get Started Today
Whether you need to plan your estate, update that plan or administer a loved one’s estate, the caring Prescott estate planning and probate attorneys at Signature Law Group are here to help. To schedule your initial consultation with us, call our office in Prescott, Arizona, at (928) 842-8522. You can also send us an email.
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