One of the first surprises to our clients in the opening of a probate is that the money going to the state is only $204.00 for the court’s filing fee and perhaps some minimal amounts for certified documents (around $31.00 or so). Many clients when they first come to us seem to believe that the state will take a much bigger chunk of the decedent’s probate estate than that.
The reason for such misunderstanding is probably the scare tactics some commercial firms use to sell their living trusts. Such non-law firms some of us call “trust mills” want the public to believe that the probate procedure includes the state taking a big bite out of the assets the decedent left. That way they can sell even more of their one-size-fits-all living trusts.
Another surprise to many clients is that the probate procedure, when it is necessary, can be much less of a headache than they thought it would be. When a law firm such as ours with plenty of experience in probate is engaged, the entire legal process should be as smooth and hassle-free for the client as possible. We like to tell our clients that one of our goals for our clients is that they be able to get a good night’s sleep.
Probates do not have to take forever to get through. If there are no complicating factors that need to be dealt with, a probate can be completed within five months or so. That length of time is arrived at by starting with the statutory creditor notice period, which takes about four months, and adding a couple of weeks on the front end to get the case going, and a couple of weeks on the back end to wrap things up. Often probate cases take longer than that but it will be because of issues in a particular case that cannot be rushed, for example a house that needs to be sold or assets that for some reason take a while to be collected.
In Arizona, a “Closing Statement” is filed with the court when an “informal” probate procedure is essentially complete. The filing of the Closing Statement starts the clock ticking for about a year. At the end of that year, the final document, called the “Certificate of Registrar” is issued by the clerk of court. The good news is that during that year there is probably almost nothing the personal representative has to do. It is just a period of time required by law, during which everyone waits to see if there is any unfinished business that pops up. Usually there is not.
When a law firm conducts a probate, the attorney and legal staff do most of the work involved. That is why the largest part of probate costs are for the lawyer’s services. There is just a lot to do, and when unusual, difficult or unexpected issues arise it takes time to deal with them properly. The more time required in a case, the higher the costs will be. However, there are often things the personal representative (executor) can do if he or she wants to be “hands on” and that is one way costs can be contained.