How to Make a Valid Will in Arizona? - step-by-step process
Read our blog article to see how you can make a valid will under AZ law.
Creating a valid will under in Arizona will not keep you out of probate court. It will at least express your final wishes to your family and the probate court.
As of September 2021, it was estimated that around 42% of adults in the United States have a will. That is very low considered that sooner of later we will all no longer be here.
Creating a valid will in Arizona requires following certain legal requirements to ensure that your wishes are legally recognized and carried out after your passing.
Read our blog article to understand a little bit more about an Arizona will.
Make a Valid will in Arizona - step-by-step
Consulting with an estate planning and probate lawyer is usually your best option to guarantee that you have a valid will in Arizona. We do understand that some people can't afford the the help of a lawyer. Instead of letting your estate follow intestate succession laws you may want to read our article first.
Here's a step-by-step guide covering everything you need to know:
- Age and Capacity: In Arizona, you must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind to create a valid will. The testator's conscious presence is required.
- Format: Although handwritten (holographic) wills are allowed in Arizona, it is generally better to have a formal (typed) will to avoid potential complications. It is advisable to use a computer or typewriter, but if you decide to handwrite it, make sure it is clear and legible.
- Personal Information: Start by including your full legal name, address, and any other identifying information.
- Executor: Designate an executor (also known as a personal representative) who will be responsible for carrying out the provisions of your will. Ensure the person you choose is willing and capable of handling this responsibility.
- Beneficiaries: Clearly state the names of the beneficiaries who will inherit your assets. Include their full names and relationship to you (e.g., spouse, child, friend).
- Assets: Differently to what people think you should not provide a detailed list of you assets. You should specify your property as personal property and real property and add how you want it distributed to your beneficiaries, usually as a percentage. All the testator's property should be added to your will.
- Guardianship: If you have minor children, designate a guardian to take care of them in case both parents pass away. Discuss this decision with the chosen guardian beforehand.
- Witnesses: Arizona requires two witnesses to witness the signing of the will. They must be competent adults and not beneficiaries in the will. Witnesses cannot be related to you or your beneficiaries by blood or marriage.
- Signature: Sign the will at the end of the document. This should be done in the presence of the witnesses, and they must also sign the will.
- Self-proving Affidavit: Although not mandatory, including a self-proving affidavit can make it easier for the court to validate the will after your death. This affidavit is signed in front of a notary public and the witnesses, and it attests to the validity of the will.
- Safekeeping: Once the will is complete, store it in a safe and accessible place. Inform your executor and close family members of its location. We do not recommend storing it in a safe deposit box as your personal representative may not have access to it without a court order.
- Review and Update: Periodically review and update your will, especially after significant life events such as marriage, divorce, birth of children, or the acquisition of substantial assets.
While creating a simple will on your own is possible, it's advisable to seek legal counsel, especially if your estate is complex or if you have specific concerns about its distribution and you expect your heirs to fight with each other. A trust and wills lawyer can help ensure that your will complies with Arizona law and properly reflects your wishes.
Arizona is a community property state but intestate laws can be complex if you have a blended family. Make sure to work with a legal professional that has experience dealing with blended families so your children inherit what is theirs by right.
Frequently asked questions about Arizona Wills.
1) Is a holographic will valid in Arizona?
Yes, holographic wills, also know as handwritten wills, are valid in Arizona. A holographic will is a will that is entirely handwritten and signed by the testator (the person making the will). In Arizona, holographic wills are recognized as valid legal documents as long as they meet certain requirements:
- Handwritten: The entire will must be written in the testator's own handwriting. Typewritten or pre-printed wills are not considered holographic wills.
- Signature: The will must be signed by the testator. The signature is a crucial element to validate the holographic will.
- Intent: It must be evident that the testator intended the document to serve as their last will and testament. This intent can usually be inferred from the content and language used in the document. It is important to be mentally competent and of sound mind to avoid issues.
- Date: Though not explicitly required by Arizona law, it is a good practice to include the date on the holographic will to establish its chronological order.
Unlike some states, Arizona does not require holographic wills to have witnesses. Nevertheless, having witnesses can help avoid potential challenges to the will's authenticity in the future.
While holographic wills are valid in Arizona, it's essential to keep in mind that they can be more susceptible to errors, ambiguity, and challenges compared to formal typed wills. Consulting with an estate planning attorney to create a properly drafted will can provide more legal certainty and minimize the risk of complications during probate.
2) Do my Will need to be notarized to be valid in Arizona?
No, a Will does not need to be notarized to be valid in Arizona. A notarized will is considered self proved though.
For a notarized Will:
- Two Witnesses: Arizona law requires that the Will must be signed by the testator (person making the Will) in the presence of at least two witnesses.
- Witness Qualifications: The witnesses must be competent adults and not beneficiaries under the Will. They cannot be related to the testator or the beneficiaries by blood or marriage.
- No Notarization: While you can choose to have your Will notarized, it is not a legal requirement for the Will to be valid in Arizona.
It's important to note that while notarization is not required for the validity of the Will in Arizona, adding a self-proving affidavit, which is signed in front of a notary and witnesses, can make the probate process smoother after your passing. This affidavit attests to the validity of the Will, and it can help the court accept the Will without requiring the testimony of the witnesses during the probate process.
3) Do Arizona wills keep me out of Probate?
Creating a Will in Arizona does not keep your estate out of probate.
Probate is the legal process through which a court validates a Will (if there is one) and oversees the distribution of a deceased person's assets to their beneficiaries or heirs. The main purpose of probate is to ensure that the deceased person's debts are paid, and their assets are distributed correctly according to their Will or Arizona law if there is no Will.
Having a valid Will can make the probate process smoother and more predictable, as it provides clear instructions on how you want your assets distributed. However, it does not avoid probate altogether.
If you want to keep your estate out of probate, you may need to consider other estate planning strategies, such as:
- Living Trust: Establishing a living trust allows you to transfer ownership of your assets to the trust during your lifetime. After your passing, the assets held in the trust can be distributed to your beneficiaries without going through probate.
- Joint Ownership: Owning property jointly with someone else, such as joint tenancy with rights of survivorship, means that the property passes directly to the surviving owner without probate upon your death. A Beneficiary Deed is usually used to avoid probate together with your Will. The surviving spouse will received the property first. At the time of the surviving spouse passing the property will automatically be transferred to your beneficiaries designated in the deed.
- Beneficiary Designations: For assets like life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and payable-on-death (POD) accounts, you can designate beneficiaries. Upon your death, these assets pass directly to the designated beneficiaries without probate.
- Small Estate Procedures: Arizona has simplified probate procedures for small estates, allowing for a quicker and less costly process if the estate's value falls below a certain threshold. If your estate doesn't meet the probate requirements that may be a good option for you.
- Gifting: You can gift assets to your beneficiaries during your lifetime, reducing the size of your estate subject to probate. Make sure to talk to an attorney to avoid generating unnecessary tax liability.
It's essential to consult with an estate planning lawyer to determine the most appropriate strategies for your specific situation that follow the laws. They can help you create an estate plan that aligns with your wishes and minimizes the complexities for your loved ones.
4) What are the main types of Arizona wills?
In Arizona, there are primarily two main types of wills: formal wills and holographic wills. Each type has its own characteristics and requirements for validity. Let's explore each type:
A formal will is a typed or printed document that follows specific legal requirements to be considered valid. To create a formal will in Arizona, the following elements must be present:
Writing: The will must be in writing, either typed or printed.
Testator's Signature: The will must be signed by the testator (person making the will) or by someone else at the testator's direction and in their presence.
Witnesses: The will must be witnessed by at least two competent adults who are not beneficiaries under the will. These witnesses must see the testator sign the will or acknowledge their signature, and they must sign the will in the testator's presence.
Testamentary Intent: It must be clear from the content that the document is intended to serve as the testator's last will and testament.
Formal wills are typically prepared with the assistance of an estate planning attorney to ensure they meet all legal requirements and accurately reflect the testator's wishes.
We already spoke about holographic wills on our first question.
5) Do my Last Will and Testament expiry in Arizona?
In Arizona, a Last Will and Testament does not have an expiration date. Once a valid Will is created, it remains valid until it is revoked or superseded by a new Will.
However, it's essential to keep your Will up-to-date, especially if significant life events or changes in your circumstances occur. Life events such as marriage, divorce, the birth or adoption of children, significant changes in your assets, or the passing of beneficiaries or executors may necessitate updates to your Will.
If you wish to make changes to your existing Will, you have a few options:
- Codicil: A codicil is a legal document that allows you to make amendments to your existing Will without completely rewriting it. It must be executed with the same formalities as the original Will. At our law firm we do not recommend codicil's as they usually create confusion.
- Revocation: You can revoke your existing Will by creating a new Will that explicitly revokes all previous Wills and codicils. Alternatively, you can revoke the Will by physically destroying it with the intention of revoking it.
- Create a New Will: Creating a new Will that supersedes the previous one is a common approach to updating your estate plan. In the new Will, include a clause that states it revokes all prior Wills and codicils. That is usually our preferred approach at our law firm.
Remember, it's important to follow the formalities required by law when making changes to your Will to ensure the updated version is valid as well.
To make sure your Will aligns with your current wishes and accurately reflects your intentions, it's advisable to consult with an estate planning attorney. They can guide you through the process of updating your Will and assist you in making any necessary changes to your estate plan.
Schedule a free estate planning consultation today
If you are ready to work with a wills attorney in Chandler, AZ we will be pleased to help. Our attorneys are here to understand your specific requirements and the specifics needs of your family. We strongly believe that every person should meet our attorneys before they hire us. We offer you a free consultation to go over your needs and to understand if we are the right estate planing law firm for you.
Call (480)565-8020 or click here to schedule your free consultation, we will be pleased to help.