Your parent has died, and you are named as the Personal Representative (aka Executor) of their Will. You take the Will and death certificate to their bank with the plan to handle your parent’s account(s).  Except, the bank manager advises that you need to “open probate” and return to the bank with your “Letters”.  Why? What does this mean?

The assets and accounts belonging to the decedent that are not otherwise automatically distributed by operation of law upon their owner’s death are now “estate” assets.  When someone dies in Arizona and at death owned (1) real property in Arizona with equity value of $100,000+, or (2) owned $75,000+ in total combined other assets (e.g., bank accounts, brokerage accounts, vehicles, etc.) that were titled to the decedent alone with no surviving joint owner, no POD, TOD, or other beneficiary designation, and the asset or account was not titled to a Trust, probate is required.  In order to manage and distribute these “estate” assets, a Personal Representative must be appointed by the probate court; it is not enough to be named in the Will itself.

The purpose of probate is to (1) validate the Will, if any; (2) determine heirs; (3) appoint a Personal Representative to administer the Estate; and (4) oversee the Estate administration.  Upon appointment, the Court will issue to the Personal Representative a document known as “Letters of Appointment of Personal Representative and Acceptance of Appointment as Personal Representative”, commonly referred to as the “Letters”.  You will use a certified copy of the Letters to prove you have authority to handle all estate assets and accounts. Without “Letters”, the bank cannot give you control over the decedent’s (now estate’s) assets or accounts.

How do you open probate to get your Letters? There are mandatory court forms and pleadings that must be prepared and submitted to the probate division of the Court, depending upon whether you are filing an informal or formal probate. The issuance of Letters is just the beginning.  As Personal Representative you will have significant fiduciary duties and accounting responsibilities, and statutory formalities that must be observed in handling the Estate.

It is always best to have legal counsel when you are Personal Representative! We frequently represent Personal Representatives in probate proceedings and know the rules and responsibilities involved. We are here to make sure everything is handled correctly and facilitate the deceased person’s legacy wishes.

If you have been told you need to “open probate” and get “Letters”, call or email our office at 480-922-1010 or info@bivenslaw.com to schedule a consultation. 

  • Stephanie A. Bivens, Esq. CELA