Though many people have a negative view of probate, it can be a beneficial undertaking.
The probate process ensures that your loved one’s estate is distributed legally and according to the wishes reflected in their will. Even for estates without a will, probate provides an orderly, fair process for allocating property that may help to avoid disagreements between family members.
The attorneys at the Harris Law Firm, PLLC, understand that it is difficult to deal with settling an estate when you have just lost someone you love. We will help lift the burden from your shoulders and make the probate process as seamless as possible.
What Is Probate?
Probate is a court-supervised process used to settle someone’s estate after they die. It involves determining whether the decedent had a valid will, gathering their assets, paying off debts, and then transferring the decedent’s remaining property. If the decedent had a will, the executor distributes the assets to the specified beneficiaries.
When someone dies intestate, meaning they did not have a valid will, Arkansas law defines how the estate is divided among surviving heirs. A probate lawyer from Arkansas can help you know what to expect as they guide you through the process and protect your interests.
For small estates, probate may not be necessary. Instead, Arkansas allows heirs to use a summary procedure that involves filing one or more affidavits with the circuit court.
How Long Do I Have to Initiate Probate Proceedings?
With limited exceptions, a will must be admitted to probate within five years of the decedent’s death. The same five-year deadline applies for initiating probate when the decedent did not have an estate plan.
How Does Probate Begin?
When a loved one passes away, the person in possession of the will delivers it to the executor named in the will or to the circuit court. If no will exists, anyone who may receive property from the decedent’s estate may petition the court to appoint an administrator.
Speaking with a probate attorney in Arkansas is the best way to determine where to file a probate case. Typically, the proper circuit court to handle probate is the one in the county where the decedent resided at the time of their death. If the decedent lived out of state, then probate should be initiated in the county where the decedent owned the greatest amount of property.
Do I Need an Attorney for Probate in Arkansas?
The law does not require the administrator to hire an attorney. However, there are many circumstances in which the advice of counsel is useful. For instance, an attorney can deal with thorny issues such as will contests or difficulty accessing estate property.
What Steps Are Involved?
Every probate will be different depending on the assets of the estate and the people involved. But in most probate proceedings, the executor or administrator has the following duties:
- Provide notice to beneficiaries under the will or to statutory heirs;
- Inventory and appraise all of the estate’s assets;
- Pay the estate’s debts;
- Sell estate assets, if necessary;
- Pay the decedent’s taxes and taxes owed by the estate;
- Distribute the remaining assets; and
- Close out the estate with the court’s approval.
At every stage, the guidance of an experienced Arkansas probate attorney is likely to make the process go more smoothly.
Does Probate Distribute All of the Decedent’s Property?
Not necessarily. Probate administration is only required for assets the decedent owned at the time of death. Property owned jointly with a right of survivorship passes directly to the surviving owner and is not subject to probate. Likewise, financial instruments like life insurance, individual retirement accounts, and 401(K)s usually pass directly to designated beneficiaries.
If your loved one transferred property to a revocable or irrevocable trust, that property also would not be part of the probate estate. Indeed, avoiding probate is the reason some of our clients choose to engage in estate planning during their lifetime.
How Much Does a Probate Attorney Cost in Arkansas?
An heir, beneficiary, or other individual involved in probate may contract with an attorney for their services. Absent such a contract, Arkansas Code § 28-48-108 provides for compensation based on the total market value of the estate’s real and personal property as follows:
- 5% of the first $5,000;
- 4% of the next $20,000;
- 3% of the next $75,000;
- 2.75% of the next $300,000;
- 2.5% of the next $600,000; and
- 2% of the value of all properties thereafter.
However, the court may alter this fee schedule if it finds the fees excessive or insufficient under the circumstances. A seasoned probate attorney from Arkansas is vital to ensuring that probate proceeds efficiently.
Where Can I Find an Experienced Arkansas Probate Attorney?
If you need help initiating or participating in an Arkansas probate, reach out to the Harris Law Firm, PLLC, today. Whether you need to probate a will, administer an intestate estate, contest a will, or deal with other inheritance issues—we are here to provide compassionate help. Attorney Katherine Harris Elliott draws from her background as a licensed clinical social worker and mental health therapist to provide a client-centered practice. Please contact us today for a free case review.