The idea of your estate assets going through probate by yourself might be anxiety-inducing, but the truth is that the probate process can be far less daunting with a skilled attorney’s help.
Each state has its own probate laws that govern the disposition of your property. Not only that, but your assets may be subject to federal regulations and taxes as well. With an experienced probate attorney on your side, you can make the most of your assets and ensure that your loved ones receive the property that you have worked to leave for them.
What is Probate Law?
Probate law is the law that governs how your property is distributed among your heirs and beneficiaries. Wills and estates fall under the umbrella of probate law. Some assets may or may not be considered part of your estate, depending on your state’s probate laws. With all of the laws and regulations and taxes surrounding the probate system, it is no surprise that the whole process can seem daunting. However, if you do not make a plan for the future of your assets through a will, trust, or other testamentary document, then the court will decide who gets your property, without your say in the matter. A probate lawyer knows the ins and outs of estate planning and probate law and can help you make the best decisions for the disposition of your assets.
How is Arkansas Probate Law Different?
The Size of the Estate Determines Probate
In Arkansas, the probate process is mandatory for any contested estate, if there are creditors (including a mortgage) and for any estate larger than $100,000. If a person provides written grounds for contest to the court, the will goes through the probate process. If there are any creditors such as mortgages, credit card bills, or hospital bills, then there must be a probate. Also, if you have an estate that is larger that $100,000, the probate process is inevitable if you have a will in place.
On the other hand, if your estate is small and uncontested, then it is possible for a beneficiary to circumvent the probate process by having an attorney file an affidavit asking to bypass probate. In this affidavit, he or she must certify, among other things, that all debts against the estate have been paid. He or she must also certify that at least forty-five days have elapsed since the death. If the court approves the affidavit to bypass probate, the affidavit can be submitted to financial institutions, businesses, and other entities to gain access to the property in the estate.
No matter your estate size, it is always better to be prepared, and an experienced attorney can help you make a plan that will make the most of your assets.
Arkansas Taxes Differ from Federal Taxes
Arkansas does not have any estate tax or inheritance tax, which is good news for heirs and beneficiaries in Arkansas. Though your estate will not be subject to Arkansas estate or inheritance tax, it is possible that federal taxes could affect your estate.
Federal gift and estate tax codes change, and a skilled attorney keeps abreast of all the changes in the probate process and laws that could affect the distribution of your estate. Whether your estate is large or small, subject to taxation or not, it is a good idea to have an attorney put your estate plan in place so that your wishes for your assets are honored.
What Happens in the Arkansas Probate Process?
In Arkansas, the probate process begins when a petition for probate is filed and a personal representative is appointed to administer the estate. The personal representative, after being appointed and receiving letters testamentary from the Court, has legal control of all of the decedent’s property. This does not mean that the personal representative has title to the property. It just means that the personal representative can act on the estate’s behalf.
After a personal representative is appointed, he or she must take an inventory of the estate’s property, including real estate, personal property, and financial accounts such as stocks and bonds.
Subsequently, the personal representative, with the help of his or her attorney, gives notice to all parties who may have an interest in the estate. These parties include creditors and any heirs who may have a claim—including both beneficiaries named in the will (if there is one) and persons who would be considered heirs according to Arkansas intestacy laws. Notice is also published in the newspaper, and the notice must run for at least two weeks. Creditors who have a claim against the estate have six months to answer. The personal representative pays any claims against the estate and any taxes owed, and the estate may be required to file a final income tax return.
After filing the tax return, the personal representative files a final account with the court and distributes the remaining property as appropriate. If the court approves, it will then close the estate. Because the probate process can be involved, it is a good idea to hire a skilled attorney to make sure the process goes smoothly.
Talk to an Attorney
The probate process can be a daunting task to face. The best way to sensibly plan for your future is to discuss your estate planning options with an estate lawyer trained in these matters. Contact Estate Planners of Arkansas today at 1-866-227-8165 for a free consultation.