Frequently Asked Questions about Estate Planning & Probate

What is estate planning?
Estate planning is a strategic process where someone’s objectives for the management and disposition of their assets are analyzed and action is taken to accomplish those goals.

What is a will?
will is a document that controls the disposition of a person’s property at the time of their death. In Arizona, you must be 18 years-old to draft a will, the will must be in writing, it must be signed by the maker, and two witnesses are required (beneficiaries should not serve as witnesses). After the will-maker dies, the will is presented to the probate court, proven valid and put into effect so its provisions can be carried out.

Can a will be changed?
A will can be changed or revoked at any point in time before death as long as the maker is legally competent. In order for the changes to be legally effective, they must be made in strict accordance with the legal requirements set forth under Arizona law. A change to a will is typically made by an addition called a “codicil.”

Who should receive my assets and property when I pass away?
Typically the needs of one’s spouse, children and grandchildren are carefully weighed; however, this can become more difficult when there are stepchildren or a property settlement agreement with a former spouse.

Can a will address guardianship for my minor children?
A will can name a guardian or a short list of guardians for your minor children should you become incapacitated or if you die. Without a will addressing these concerns, your children will most likely go into foster care following your death until the courts work out guardianship with any potential family members.

What are the components of a good estate plan?
The components of an estate plan often include: living wills, trust agreements, beneficiary designations for life insurance, powers of attorney for health care and property, and buy-sell agreements.

Do I need an estate planning attorney?
In most cases the average person should not do their own estate planning without professional assistance from an attorney. Few people have adequate, if any experience with the various estate planning tools available and most people would miss the opportunity maximize the various tools to their greatest advantage. What’s more, even fewer people are skilled at drafting the documents needed in order to put their plan into effect.

Why is it important to periodically review my estate plan?
It’s important to review your estate plan at least every five years, sometimes sooner. There are many life events such as births, marriages, divorces and changes in the laws that may call for changes to your estate plan. If you fail to keep your plan current, your loved ones may contest the will or become engaged in litigation. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for families to be divided or even torn apart when an outdated will no longer reflects the family’s dynamics. By keeping your estate plan current, you can be sure that your estate will be divided in the fashion that you intended.

Can I disinherit my spouse?
People can basically give their money to whomever they want in a will; however, Arizona law won’t allow a spouse to disinherit the other without the consent from the spouse who is being disinherited. Whether or not a surviving spouse is in a will, he or she may renounce the will and receive a third of the deceased spouse’s property if there are surviving descendents of the deceased, or one half if there aren’t any surviving descendants. But, a surviving spouse’s right renounce the will of his or her spouse does not apply to a “living trust” created by their spouse before their death.

Looking for a lawyer for estate planning in Arizona?

While it’s human nature to procrastinate, all too often the biggest mistake people make is they wait too long to create an estate plan. If you die without a will, the court will appoint an administrator to settle the estate and make distribution as provided by law after all debts and expenses are paid.

When someone dies without a will, he or she has no voice in the selection of the administrator or how the estate’s assets are distributed. With a will you can have a planned distribution of your estate as you have chosen; without a will your property shall be distributed under a fixed statutory distribution. An estate plan should always be planned while you’re in good health and when you are in a position to carefully make decisions considering its provisions. Contact a Arizona estate planning attorney from Ferris, Thompson & Zweig to avoid the pitfalls of failing to plan ahead; your family will be glad that you did!