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For decedents who owned property of relatively modest value, Arizona law provides for ownership transfers that do not require probate court oversight.

Small Estate Affidavit

A

small estate affidavit,

also known as an Affidavit for Transfer of Personal Property, allows an heir to transfer or claim the estate’s assets free of probate, provided that the net value of those assets qualifies for small-estate treatment.

To qualify, the value of the decedent’s total personal property (e.g., cash, bank accounts, securities, business interests, vehicles, and other non-real estate assets), minus any liens or encumbrances on those assets, must be $75,000 or less.
Continue Reading Small Estate Affidavits: Avoiding probate in property disposition

Under Arizona’s intestate succession statutes, who is entitled to the Decedent’s property is largely a function of how potential heirs are related to the Decedent and how each category of relationship ranks in the statutory pecking order.

In the absence of a properly draft and executed Will or Trust, dying “intestate” triggers a situation in which claims against the Decedent’s estate must be validated and settled by the courts, in a vacuum formed by ignorance of the Decedent’s wishes.

It is not an exaggeration to state that intestacy creates a potential free-for-all (in fact, we use that very phrase in
Continue Reading Dying without a will (intestate): A look at Arizona’s laws of intestacy

Community property:

To help ensure that your intentions are honored regarding the ownership of your pre-move assets and any assets you acquired after moving to Arizona, you would be wise to schedule a review of your will, trust and ownership documents.

The reason: If you moved here from any of the

41 states not mentioned above,

you should assume that your will, trust, ownership documents, etc., will not provide in Arizona the relative certainty that you enjoyed in your previous state.

(The property laws of the eight other “community property” states are similar to Arizona’s, and the estate planning impacts
Continue Reading New to Arizona? Our community property laws may conflict with your estate plan

In a Will challenge alleging testamentary incapacity, the courts look closely at the specific circumstances of the case, and few conditions or arguments are certain to achieve a predictable result


.

Regarding the second requirement, courts consider the testator’s mental capacity

at the time they signed their Will

and try to determine, in part, whether the testator:

  • understood that they were executing a Will and what that meant;

  • knew the nature and extent of their property; and

  • knew to whom they were bequeathing their property (or, as was described in a 1954 Arizona decision,

    In Re Walter’s Estate,

    the “natural


Continue Reading Will contests: Challenges in making a case for mental incapacity

What began in 1956 as an affair between an opportunistic man and a woman who “had a weakness for men” ended with a defining Arizona Supreme Court decision that for more than 50 years has provided the litmus test for undue influence in Will creation.

Sordid Background.

The case involved a lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of the Last Will and Testament of Mrs. Bond Sneed McCauley, who died in Phoenix in 1959. 

Bond was married three times. Her first and second marriages, which ended in divorce, produced a son, Arthur, and a daughter, Lillian.

In her second divorce, the property
Continue Reading Will contests: Arizona's 8-factor test for undue influence

Mental incapacity and undue influence are two major grounds for Will contests, and Arizona laws offer specific provisions concerning both.

  • The “t

    estator” (i.e., the maker of the Will) lacked mental capacity or was not of sound mind when they signed the Will.

  • The testator was under the “undue influence” of another party at the time they created and signed the Will.

  • The Will does not faithfully reflect the testator’s wishes.

  • The Will was forged or not legally executed.

  • The Will has been superseded by a subsequent Will or governing document.

  • The Will does not meet Arizona’s legal requirements (see


Continue Reading "That's not what Mom would have wanted": A look at Will contests in Arizona

Far be it from us to suggest what your New Year’s resolutions should be, or whether you should make them at all. Instead, take a look at these 10 useful reminders and make a decision today regarding what you might do about each.

1. Check the date of your most recent estate plan review or revision.

Make a list of things that have happened since then that might affect your plan, and take appropriate action.

  • Changes in income or asset value

  • Business purchase or sale

  • Change in marital status

  • Birth or death in the family

  • Retirement

  • Change in health

  • Move


Continue Reading It's a new year: Take a fresh look at your estate plan

In November, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Biden Administration-backed “Build Back Better” social spending and climate bill and sent it to the Senate. Here is a quick look.

The House-passed bill will almost certainly be modified to meet the demands of senators from both sides of the aisle. Its cost is generally estimated to range from $1.7 trillion to $2 trillion — lower, if some senators have their way, and potentially higher if expiring provisions are made permanent.

While we wait to see what the Senate does with Build Back Better (BBB) and, if it emerges from the
Continue Reading "Build Back Better" (House version) in a nutshell

When we think of “estate planning,” our first thought typically involves directions for our property after we are deceased. But did you know your estate plan can include legal directions for the care of your minor children?

In the unfortunate and unlikely event that minor children (under 18 years of age) lose their parents, and those parents do not have proper guardianship documents in place, the courts will be in charge of deciding the parents’ legal successors.

This presents a number of issues. First, the individuals appointed by the court as the children’s guardians might not be the parents’ first
Continue Reading Parents: Include guardianship nominations in your estate plan

When a divorced or widowed parent remarries, that event not only can disrupt family dynamics; it can also trigger financial and legal turmoil if the kids perceive their new step-parent as a threat to their birthright.

In a remarriage or blended family situation, keeping peace in the family is an achievable goal, provided there is effective estate planning, a clear understanding of the estate plan’s objectives, and an equitable balancing of all parties’ interests.

For the purposes of the scenarios described in this article, the “parties” are John, the original husband; Linda, John’s wife; David, whom Linda married after John
Continue Reading Remarriage and the kids’ inheritance

In Arizona, divorce and legal separation have the same effect when it comes to estate planning – but the similarities do not extend to mere physical separation.

Under Arizona law, this means that, even if your estate planning documents fail to mention that divorce removes an ex-spouse as a beneficiary, an ex-spouse nevertheless cannot inherit as a beneficiary under estate planning documents following divorce. In this way, legal separation and divorce have much in common: Both keep sole and separate property separate, even for purposes of inheritance.

Additionally, legal separation and divorce may have legal benefits:

  • the community property relationship


Continue Reading Estate planning and unintended consequences of marital separation



In our celebrity-focused culture, it often takes a public airing of high-profile individuals’ legal laundry to focus the attention of everyday people on issues that might concern them privately.

According to a recent BBC report, her conservatorship is “split into two parts – one is for her estate and financial affairs, the other is for her as a person.” That characterization of how Ms. Spears and her fortune are managed is our cue to transition away from her court challenge and into a practical discussion of conservatorships in general – especially how a conservatorship functions in Arizona and how
Continue Reading #FreeBritney? The role of conservators in protecting vulnerable adults



Arizona’s newly passed budget reduces the top rate for high-income taxpayers from 8% to, eventually, a flat 2.5%, and counters the impact of the Prop. 208 surtax.

On June 30, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation, passed by House and Senate Republicans on party-line votes, that, according to a Governor’s Office statement, “paves the way for the largest tax cut in state history.”

The new law provides a maximum tax rate of 4.5% (the state’s current top tax bracket) and, by year three, replaces the state’s four income tax rates (ranging from 2.59% to 4.5%) with a flat tax rate
Continue Reading Arizona's income tax rates are capped at 4.5%, headed lower


Avoid any actions that even appear to be improper, and at all times do your best to be – in fact and by your actions – completely above reproach.

Ryan Scharber’s November 2020 article, “

Falling Short: Harsh Consequences for Breach of Fiduciary Duty

,” described how, for a person serving in a fiduciary capacity, failing to meet a standard of conduct can carry serious liability.

That article seemed to inspire some of our readers who were serving as a successor trustee to reaffirm their commitment to the proper execution of their duties. One client told us, “I don’t want
Continue Reading Doing the job right: eight key duties of a successor trustee

Typically, the world of estate planning changes little, but certain key elements can change as frequently as new members of Congress are elected.

But First: An Estate Tax Overview

Estate taxation is triggered by the transfer of wealth (above certain levels) from a deceased person to their beneficiaries. There is a federal estate tax, and some states (not including Arizona) exact their own estate tax. The federal estate tax rate depends on the size of the estate, with the top rate currently set at 40%.

The tax code includes two provisions that, for most Americans, significantly reduce estate tax liability:
Continue Reading Competing tax proposals could seriously impact your estate plan