Creating a last will and testament is an important step in planning for the distribution of your real and personal property upon your death. Arizona wills allow the testator (the person making the will) to provide for a spouse, children, other loved ones, and even pets after his death. You can also devise a bequest to a charitable organization through your Arizona will.
Not to be confused with a last will and testament, a living will provides instructions should you become incapacitated and incapable of making decisions regarding your medical care. Such a document would take effect, if necessary, within your lifetime while a last will and testament does not. In Arizona, living wills are also known as advance directives.
Do you need a last will and testament?
Although a last will and testament is not legally required, without a will, state laws (called laws of intestacy) will determine the distribution of the deceased’s assets. The outcome may not coincide with the decedent's (the person who passed away) wishes, however, which means it is generally advisable to create a will.
A last will and testament can serve many purposes, but one of the biggest benefits is that it gives the testator the opportunity to choose the executor of the estate, the person who will be responsible for carrying out the wishes contained in the will. Making provisions for this decision ahead of time can give a testator great peace of mind knowing his estate will be in the right hands; without a will, a court will choose the executor of an estate.
A testator can use a will for various purposes, but the most important is to express how assets such as real estate, vehicles, business holdings, securities, and bank accounts, should be divided upon the testator’s death. A testator can also name a guardian for minor children through the last will and testament.
Moreover, in addition to trusts that provide a benefit for people, Arizona law specifically allows for the creation of a trust for the care of animals alive during the settlor’s lifetime (“pet trust”); such a trust must be performed within 21 years or less and terminates when no living animal is covered by the trust. An Arizona last will gives you the option of caring for your animals after your death in this manner.
Before the terms of a will can be accepted, the will must be proven in probate court. Probate is the court-supervised process of distributing the estate of a deceased person. Once the will is proven valid in probate court, the executor can then pay off any debts and taxes owed by the estate and then distribute the testator’s property according to the will.
Arizona law provides for both formal and informal testacy proceedings; the former is carried out when the validity of the will is challenged while the latter allows the process to be carried out without court intervention (but does require court approval).
Supervised administration of the will can be specially requested, if desired.
Intestacy: Dying without a will
When someone dies without a will, he is said to be “intestate,” and the laws of intestacy kick in. In Arizona in the absence of a will, if a decedent is survived by only a spouse and no children or by only a spouse and descendants who are also descendants of the spouse, the spouse inherits everything; alternately, if the decedent is survived by only children but no spouse, the children inherit everything.
The surviving spouse would have to share the estate, however, if the decedent leaves behind descendants who are not also descendants of the surviving spouse.
Exceptions to ability to distribute property
Only property titled in your name at your death may be distributed according to an Arizona will; jointly held property with the right of survivorship, then, does not. Community property also passes directly to the surviving spouse.
Other restrictions on the ability to distribute property include the following:
Homestead allowance: A decedent's surviving spouse is entitled to a homestead allowance of $18,000. If there is no surviving spouse, each minor child and each dependent child of the decedent is entitled to a homestead allowance amounting to $18,000 divided by the number of minor and dependent children of the decedent.
Exempt property: The decedent's surviving spouse is entitled to a value not to exceed $7,000 in household furniture, automobiles, furnishings, appliances, and personal effects from the estate. If there is no surviving spouse, the decedent's children are entitled to share the same value.
Spousal share: The share of an estate that a surviving spouse receives depends on both how the property in question was owned (separate or community property) and also which other family members the decedent leaves behind.
Form a last will in Arizona
The basic requirements for an Arizona will include the following:
- Age: The testator must be at least 18 years old.
- Capacity: The testator must be of sound mind.
- Signature: The will must be signed by one of the following:
- Someone else in the testator’s name in the testator’s conscious presence, by the testator’s direction.
- Witnesses: The will must be signed by at least two individuals, each of whom signed within a reasonable time after having witnessed either the signing of the will or the testator’s acknowledgement of the signature or of the will itself.
- Writing: An Arizona will must be in writing to be valid.
- Beneficiaries: Arizona does not limit to whom property may be left in a last will.
Other recognized last wills in Arizona
In addition to the last will and testament as described above, Arizona also recognizes the validity of a handwritten will (“holographic will”) so long as it was made by someone who is at least 18 years old and of sound mind and was signed by the testator. Such a handwritten will does not need to be witnessed.
Changing an Arizona last will and testament
An Arizona last will and testament may be changed at any time by another will or by codicil, a document that adds or changes the original will; any such change must follow the same execution procedures required of wills.
Revoking an Arizona last will and testament
The revocation of an Arizona will can be accomplished in the following ways:
1. By executing a subsequent will that revokes the previous will or part expressly or by inconsistency.
2. By performing a revocatory act on the will if the testator performs the act with this intent or if another person performs the act in the testator's conscious presence and by the testator's direction.
A “revocatory act” includes “burning, tearing, canceling, obliterating or destroying the will or any part of it.”
If you're ready to make a last will in Arizona, LegalZoom can help you get started in three easy steps. When you create a last will and testament with LegalZoom, you will receive a personalized legal document specific to your state with advanced provisions to safeguard your family.