In Arizona, estate administration is the legal process during which a decedent’s affairs are settled and their assets are distributed. The Superior Court has jurisdiction over probate matters. AZ Rev Stat § 14-1201(10) and 14-1302. The death of a family member can bring out very complicated situations for loved ones left behind. In some of these cases this can lead to litigation during estate administrations. Disputes can arise when emotions are running high and family members are learning to cope with the loss of a loved one. In many cases, animosities, grudges or misconceptions about a loved one’s intentions can flare up into legal disputes. This can be very problematic for protecting the overall value of assets inside the estate and ensuring that probate administration occurs seamlessly and relatively quickly.
Understanding Probate Litigation in Arizona
All probate disputes fall under the umbrella of being a legal challenge related to some provision of an estate plan. It can also be related to the perceived legitimacy of an estate plan. For example, probate litigation may be initiated as a result of questions surrounding how the will was first created and whether or not it is legally valid, or whether the person who created it had the capacity to create the document and understand the repercussions of their actions at that time. This type of litigation is referred to as a will contest.
The second common reason for probate litigation has to do with amendments and whether these were done appropriately and legally. A third common reason for probate litigation in Arizona is about distribution of assets. In the event that the estate plan or will left room for ambiguity, inheritors may argue about the will through probate litigation.
A fourth reason for initiating probate litigation is about legitimacy of the personal representative. Legally binding requirements exist to ensure that personal representatives are appointed who have the legal validity to serve in this role and represent the high level of trust and responsibility associated with these important services. The final reason for initiating probate litigation has to do with undue influence.
This usually involves cases in which a vulnerable or elderly individual was manipulated to create or update their will based on the wishes of an influential party, such as a caregiver. In the event that probate litigation in Arizona is necessary, our attorney is ready to represent your personal best interests from the beginning to the end of this process.
Consequences of Probate Litigation in Arizona
Emotional conflicts may arise throughout litigation and this can be emotionally sensitive when dealing with other family members. Any person who is contesting the validity of a will or other document will need to be prepared to present evidence regarding their concerns about why they believe this document to be invalid. Anytime that estate litigation is filed, this can slow own the process of administering the estate, meaning that beneficiaries in the estate might not be able to receive their assets as quickly as they otherwise would.
In addition, probate litigation can be costly to the estate as the estate may be required to pay the expenses related to the litigation, including attorney’s fees. If the litigation is a successful will contest, the result may be that the those entitled to distributions from the estate change and the person entitled to service as personal representative may change.
Effect of a No Contest Clause
Some testators include a no contest clause in their will. The purpose of a no contest clause is to deter certain types of probate litigation by penalizing beneficiaries who initiate will contests. While in some states penalty clauses are unenforceable, in Arizona they are enforceable unless probable cause for challenging the will exists. AZ Rev Stat § 14-2517. In other words, while Arizona wants to respect the wishes of testators to penalize challenges to the will’s authenticity, Arizona also wants to ensure that challenges that are based on reasonable grounds are not penalized.