“If there is no will, then who gets the house?”.  This is a common question asked when a person dies intestate, i.e. without a will or trust, in Arizona. The transfer of property without a will or trust is generally decided by the probate court, though there are exceptions. Assets such as life insurance policies, trusts, and retirement accounts transfer to beneficiaries automatically upon receipt of a death certificate. Joint tenancy property ownership also determines the transfer of property after the death of a person who did not prepare a will.

Community Property Law in Arizona

The assets of married couples fall under community property laws in Arizona. Community property belongs to both parties equally, and it includes all property that was acquired during the marriage. Separate property consists of any assets that were acquired prior to the marriage, as well as any assets that were acquired following a legal separation or divorce.

Therefore, if someone was married when they died in Arizona, their separate property assets plus one-half of their community property constitutes their estate.

The Probate Process

The probate process includes specific steps which must be followed prior to any disbursement of estate assets. These include:

  • Putting notice in the newspaper saying who the personal representative is and how that individual can be contacted.  This is especially important for creditors. Creditors have 4 months from when the notice is put in the newspaper to stake a claim against the estate for money owed to them by the deceased.
  • The deceased’s assets must be gathered and an inventory taken.
  • The final taxes, bills, and debts of the deceased must be paid from the deceased’s assets only.

Only after the above-mentioned items have been handled will remaining assets be distributed to the legal heirs, including the transfer of real estate.

When a person dies without a will, probate proceedings will determine the transfer of property to their heirs. This process begins when a petition is filed with the county court, usually by a family member. The court requires other eligible family members to file paperwork saying they are in agreement with that particular family member’s appointment as executor, called a personal representative in Arizona.  If the family members do not agree, court hearings before a judge will be required.

Transfer of Assets Under Arizona Intestacy Laws

There is always the potential for complications when handling a person’s estate, but the following are among the most common guidelines followed by the probate court when someone dies without a will.

  • The spouse of the deceased receives all of the deceased’’s assets if they were married and had no children.
  • The deceased’s spouse receives all of his or her assets, likewise, if they were married and only had children with one another.
  • If the married deceased had children with former partners or spouses, the current spouse would be awarded 50% of the estate. The deceased’s children from other relationships would equally split the remaining half.
  • If the deceased had children and was not married, the entire estate would be divided equally among the children.
  • If the deceased had children with a partner but was unmarried, all assets will be awarded to the children of the deceased. The unmarried partner, according to Arizona law, would have no rights or claims on the deceased’s estate.
  • If the deceased had no children but did have a partner, that unmarried partner would have no claims to the estate. All assets would pass to family members in the particular order as established by Arizona law.

Contact Law Offices of Paula Hannah, PLC

Arizona probate laws can be complicated.  Law Offices of Paula Hannah, PLC’s probate attorney, offers a free consultation to answer your questions on wills, probate, and an estate’s property distribution. Schedule an appointment.