Arkansas’s probate code requires estates to go through probate if the decedent owned property, had minor-aged children, or bequeathed valuable assets to beneficiaries, whether or not they died without a will. However, there are a few exceptions to this general rule, especially when beneficiaries and assets do not exist.
In this article, a Fort Smith estate planning attorney discusses scenarios where an estate must go through probate, statutory deadlines, the probate process, and tips for avoiding probate.
When Does Arkansas Require an Estate to Go Through Probate?
The need for probate typically hinges on the types of assets left behind and their value. For example, beneficiary designations do not require probate, but bequeathing the ownership of a car or home does. An estate may need to go through probate if there are documents that are handwritten or unclear, the beneficiaries are dependents without a guardian, or if the estate assets include real estate and other high-value properties.
Every legal situation is unique, and minor details can change the entire trajectory of probate proceedings. The most practical method for determining if an estate needs to go through probate is by speaking with an Arkansas estate planning attorney. They can apply their legal knowledge directly to your situation so that you can make sound decisions throughout the process.
How Much Time Does Arkansas Allow the Estate Executor to File for Probate?
The estate executor has up to five years to file for probate in Arkansas. If the executor does not file a probate petition within this time, they could be held personally liable for civil damages by heirs, creditors, and other beneficiaries. It can also prevent the transfer of asset ownership on homes, cars, and cash inheritances.
How Does Probate Work in Arkansas?
Every probate matter follows a different strategy and cadence. However, the primary process is essentially the same.
Here are the steps that most probate cases follow from a general standpoint:
- File a probate petition in the circuit court of the decedent’s death or residence
- Send testamentary notices to heirs
- Inventory and appraise the estate’s assets
- Settle estate debts with creditor claimants
- Liquidate estate assets
- Pay estate taxes where applicable
- Distribute assets to heirs after final order issuance
There are slightly different steps required if the decedent did not leave a will behind, especially when it comes to notifying statutory heirs and naming an executor or personal representative.
Small Estate Probate for Assets Under $100,000
Arkansas’s probate code recognizes a simplified probate procedure for smaller estates under $100,000. A personal representative or executor of a qualifying estate will need to receive court authorization to utilize it. The primary advantage of small estate probate in Arkansas is that it allows for faster processing and less red tape.
What Happens if Someone Challenges the Will?
Challenging a will is when an interested party—usually a family member or heir—formally alleges to the probate court that an inequity or impropriety took place. The interested person must raise their objections before ordering the final estate’s distribution.
Common reasons for challenging a will include:
- Incapacitation of the decedent at the time they wrote it
- Fraud or undue influence
- Improper witnesses
- Unclear will provisions
- Existence of two or more wills
Whether you are the executor of a case being challenged or the one objecting to the proceedings as presented, it is essential to get legal advice from an experienced probate attorney. They have experience handling a multitude of probate contests and can guide you through the legal process.
How to Avoid Probate in Arkansas
While probate can be costly and time-consuming, a living trust can help you avoid it. Trusts offer many benefits, which makes them an attractive estate planning tool while helping heirs and family members avoid the arduous and sometimes painful probate process.
An Arkansas living trust transfers your assets into a legal entity called a trust. While the trust assumes legal control of your assets, you retain legal access to them during your lifetime. When you pass away, the assets in your living trust are transferred to the beneficiaries you have designated.
In Arkansas, the person who establishes a living trust is referred to as the trustee. The trustee is frequently a family member, a company specializing in trust management, or yourself. If you name yourself as trustee when establishing a living trust in Arkansas, you must also designate a successor trustee to take over managing the trust following your death.
After your death, the trust assets are distributed to the beneficiaries you specify. Establishing a living trust lets you transfer your property without going through the probate process.
Get Legal Help with Arkansas Probate RequirementsIf you need advice, our legal team can help. An estate planning lawyer at Milligan Law Offices can guide you throughout the probate process or establish an estate plan that allows your assets and family members to avoid probate entirely. Get an initial case evaluation by calling (479) 783-2213 or click here to send us a message.