Probate spelled out in lettered tiles


Bond Law Office Sept. 29, 2021

The lives of many people are affected by the probate process. In 2020, nearly 28,000 cases were pending in the probate courts in Arkansas. It stands to reason that most people should know something about how that process works.

If you are considering working on your own estate plan, you may want to know how it will be affected by probate or how you can avoid the process. If you are an heir to someone else’s estate, you may want to know how the process works so you know what to expect.

At the Bond Law Office, we have years of experience with the Arkansas probate process, before it is necessary and once it begins. If you live in Fayetteville or Fort Smith, Arkansas, or anywhere in the River Valley region, we can help you understand how the process works.

When Is Probate Necessary?

Probate is required when someone dies leaving any assets solely in their name. Jointly held assets, such as property with the names of both spouses on the deed, become the sole property of the surviving spouse. Assets to which a person attached a title on death or transfer on death go to the beneficiary rather than through probate (for example, a vehicle, bank account, or life insurance policy).

If the decedent created a living trust, ownership of their assets is transferred to the trust. Therefore, those assets are not in the name of the individual and not subject to probate.

Creditors may make claims against the estate for debts. Taxes owed by the decedent are paid, and then the residual of the estate is divided among the heirs or beneficiaries of the estate. If the decedent had a will, the distribution is made to those named in the will. If there is no will, distribution is made according to the laws of intestate of succession.

What Is the Probate Process in Arkansas?

Upon death, the personal representative of an estate is responsible for administration of the estate according to Arkansas law. If the decedent had a will, the personal representative is named in it. If they do not, the court will appoint the personal representative.

The personal representative will:

  • File a copy of the will and/or a petition to probate the estate. Upon validation of the will or acceptance of the petition, the court issues testamentary letters which confirm the representative’s legal authority in administration of the estate.

  • Notify creditors and heirs of the death.

  • Inventory the estate’s assets and debts.

  • Pay all debts and taxes.

  • Distribute the rest to the heirs.

  • Ask the court to close the estate.

In certain cases, an estate may qualify for a simplified process designed for small estates. Under Arkansas law, the surviving spouse and minor children are entitled to a certain amount of debt-free inheritance. If the estate is small enough to provide only that amount, the court will order the surviving spouse to notify creditors of the lack of need for probate.

An estate may also qualify for small estate administration if the value of all assets, after debts are paid and excluding the spousal and minor children allowance and homestead exemption, is less than $100,000.

How Long Does the Probate Process Take?

The length of time needed for probate depends on factors such as challenges to a will, issues with valuation of assets, and the time it takes to locate heirs and inventory assets and debts.

There is a 45-day waiting period from the filing date to estate closure in small estate administration. You can expect probate of all other estates to take a minimum of six months. That is the time allowed by law for creditors to file claims against them. Complicated, large, or contentious estates can take much longer, even years, to settle.

Getting the Experienced Legal Guidance You Need

Probate can be a confusing process to those who have no experience with it. Even the probate of the estate of someone who left a will can be stressful. Also, for many, it seems to take a long time to settle an estate, prolonging the grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one.

One way you can ensure a smoother and more expedient probate process for your loved ones is to work with an estate planning attorney on your will, trust, and other estate planning documents. If you are a personal representative who is faced with the responsibility of administering an estate, an attorney can help you navigate those duties. If you have lost a loved one and have questions about the process or your rights to the estate, an attorney can provide answers.

That is what we do at the Bond Law Office. We help clients in Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Harrison, Eureka Springs, Clarksville, Waldron, Mena, Van Buren, and throughout the River Valley region get through or avoid the probate process.

You can benefit from our experience. All you have to do is call now to schedule a consultation.