I need an (Arizona) attorney. HELP!

My late mother had a couple of IRA accounts. Unfortunately, we can’t distribute them because she neglected to update the beneficiaries. I’m told that I need a ‘Letter of Testamentary’ in order to do that, and you get that by going through probate. That’s for California. Mom and her husband were residents of, and died in, Arizona. The financial advisor I spoke with this morning said we would ‘probably’ have to go through probate in Arizona, and she didn’t know if Arizona has a ‘Letter of Testamentary’ or, if it does, what it’s called.

I have:
[ul][li]Mom’s death certificate;[/li][li]Her husband’s death certificate;[/li][li]Mom’s will;[/li][li]Her husband’s will;[/li][li]A copy (of a copy) of the Trust;[/li][li]An Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property (Arizona)[/ul][/li]
The wills and Trust specify that my sister and I are the only beneficiaries, and that we are the executors of the estate. These accounts comprise approximately $21,000 or $22,000, combined.

How do I get an attorney in Arizona? (I’m in Washington.) How can I determine if a given attorney is reputable? (Recommendations from Arizona Dopers would be appreciated.) Do I have to go to Arizona? How much does it cost to go through probate and get the documentation that says yes, I and my sister are the sole beneficiaries; and yes, we are authorised to distribute the estate? (I don’t want to spend $30,000 to get $22,000.)

Condolences for the loss of your mother.

There will be a state bar association for Arizona who could possibly give you a referral list. Even better would be a county bar association for the area where your mother lived. Ask for a referral list for lawyers who do wills and estates.

You could also try calling the Court that handles probate for the area where your mother lived. Sometimes court officials will keep a list of lawyers in the area who handle specific areas, such as probate. Or, mention that it’s a relatively small amount, and ask if they have a do-it-yourself kit. Some courts will provide “how-to” kits for relatively small estates.

If you’re on the phone with a lawyer, make sure you say up front the amount in the accounts and you want to do it as cheaply as possible.

You could also contact the financial institution where the accounts are held, and ask them what they would need from you to have the amounts release. They may have a kit, or a list of lawyers that handle such matters.

Not meant as legal advice, of course. I know nothing about Arizona probate law.

And, make sure you cc your sister on everything!

Good luck!

She will have been dead 14 years this coming February. Thank you, though.

They said I need the ‘Letter of Testamentary’, and I’d have to go through probate to get it. (FWIW, the financial institution’s office is in California.)

Thank you for the advice. I’ll try calling the Maricopa County probate court this week.

Google “small estate affidavit Arizona” and start there.

Some states have a procedure for small estates that makes it possible to distribute assets without a lawyer or the probate court. Just need to fill out a simple affidavit. Arizona seems to be one such state. Conditions apply, but you might be able to go that route. (I haven’t bothered to look up how Arizona does it, or if it applies to IRAs; I did it in Illinois for my mom’s estate when selling her car.)

Just a few tens of thousands of dollars probably qualifies as a small estate in Arizona. It would have in Illinois.

In Illinois it was pretty simple if you read carefully.

I’m not a lawyer, so don’t take my word for it.

Moderator Action

Since this involves legal issues, let’s move this to IMHO (from MPSIMS).

According to the financial company, the affidavit I have isn’t enough. (They’re in California.)

Call the county probate office where they lived and ask them. I’m not sure you need an attorney. When I was helping a friend deal with her mom’s estate, we went to the probate office and were able to handle all the necessary forms ourselves. I don’t remember what official document they created, but after that, she could go to the bank, investment companies, etc. and get at her mom’s accounts.

Here’s the best way to search for attorneys: https://www.martindale.com/areas-of-law/wills-and-probate-lawyers/arizona/

OK, I finally got through to a person. The number on the Maricopa County’s website does not have a relevant option in their phone tree, and there is no ‘Other/I need to speak with someone’ option. I googled the switchboard, and they transferred me to the Filing Counter. Twice. Both times I could hear people working in an office, but nobody was on the phone. The third time, I explained the non-pickup and I got a person.

It looks like I can do an ‘informal probate’ by filling out forms and mailing them in. The filing fee is $279, and the letter that I need is $30 plus 50¢/page. I went to the forms webpage, went to Informal Probate, and created an account. When I try to open a form, it looks like it’s asking me to provide the information online – which I can’t, since I’m in the office today and the death certificates are at home. I know I’ll have to have a physical form that I mail in, since I need to have it notarized. But I’m not there yet.

They also gave me a phone number for Probate Lawyers Assistance. It sound like it’s a volunteer thing, so they don’t have anyone to answer the phone.

I don’t have an AZ lawyer - but did want to comment on this snippet.

The IRA is generally not affected by your mother’s will. The IRA money goes to whomever the beneficiary was. If that beneficiary is deceased, I believe it would be distributed to his or her heirs.

If her husband was her beneficiary and he predeceased her, you might argue that the whole beneficiary designation is void (as she was most likely HIS beneficiary). If he had children (I gather he was your stepfather?) they might even get it - I don’t know what the law mandates in this scenario.

The bank(s) might even say “it’s void, the money goes to the estate”; apparently my mother’s beneficiary designation wasn’t quite up to date and the bank tried that tactic - I’m afraid I don’t recall the details as I wasn’t an executor. In our case it was ultimately treated as a regular inherited IRA (I get about 800 bucks a year from it, as I opted to take annual disbursements).

You don’t want the money distributed to the estate - even though that means you and your sister would get it, I assume there are tax ramifications, and then you can’t take it over your lifetime.

Anyway - definitely contact the financial institutions and find out their procedures in this situation, as well as consulting with a lawyer. The account might be handled differently from one holder to another: