Probate is the procedure by which an estate pays its bills and distributes its assets. The probate may be an informal probate or a formal probate. If a will exists, it is called a testate probate. Without a will, it is called an intestate probate. A will usually names the person who will become the personal representative (also known as the executor or executrix) of the estate. This person petitions the probate court to be named personal representative. Once confirmed by the court, the personal representative is in charge of the probate process and is responsible for the orderly administration of the estate. If there is no will, the court will appoint an administrator of the estate and the assets will be distributed according to the laws of the state.
The personal representative is often entitled by law to a reasonable fee or commission for their services. Tax laws generally look to the personal representative as being responsible for making death tax filings and other tax payments from the outstanding assets of the deceased.
A probate court refers to a specialized court and legal process dealing with probate, conservatorships and guardianships. In Arizona, the probate court is the Superior Court.
The probate court ascertains and oversees proper administration and distribution of the assets of an estate, determines and certifies the validity of wills, enforces the provisions of a valid will, prevent improper action or malfeasance by personal representatives, and provides for the equitable distribution of the assets of persons who die intestate (without a valid will).
If there are disputes regarding an estate, the probate court ultimately decides who is to receive the property of a deceased person.
The probate court can be petitioned by parties that are interested in or who have claims against an estate, such as a beneficiary who feels that an estate is being mishandled or someone to whom the decedent owed money.
The Personal Representative is the person who is designated by the will of person who has died to administer their estate and handle the distribution of its assets to those entities designated by the provisions of the will. If there is a valid objection or the person designated refuses to serve, the probate judge will appoint a new person to serve as the personal representative.
It is the duty of the personal representative to ensure that the deceased person’s wishes, as expressed in the will, are carried out. Some of the tasks that may be required to be performed by the personal representative include determining and protecting the specific assets of the estate; obtaining information (name and location) in regard to all beneficiaries named in the will and any other potential heirs; collecting and arranging for payment of the debts (if any) of the estate; approving or contesting any claims made by creditors; making sure estate taxes are calculated and paid, filing any required forms, and assisting the attorney for the estate (often selected by the personal representative if not specified in the will).