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Estate Administration

After someone dies it is often necessary to “administer” their estate. 
“Estate administration” is the process of marshalling the decedent’s property and passing it on to those who are entitled to receive it. Estates can be administered by an executor (called a Personal Representative in Arizona) or a trustee, if the decedent created a trust. The administrator gathers assets, pays debts, files tax returns and makes distributions to the beneficiaries.

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Many people wonder how long this process takes. The duration of an administration depends on many factors. Large and complicated estates tend to take longer to resolve, as do those with significant tax issues or uncertainty about beneficiaries (or their status). Ambiguous documents, handwritten changes and changed family circumstances can also add to the time required. The same collection of considerations can affect the cost and expenses involved.

One of the first steps in any estate administration is collecting information. The administrator must determine what the decedent owned and how it was titled, what debts or outstanding balances the decedent owed and whether estate planning documents were in place.

If there is only a will or no estate planning documents at all, a probate proceeding may be required to validate the will (or determine heirs) and appoint a Personal Representative. When a will names the Personal Representative that person will have priority. If there is no will, or if the person(s) named in the will are unable to act, the personal representative is appointed according to a priority list under state law. The probate court issues “Letters,” which give the Personal Representative the authority to handle the decedent’s probate assets.

A probated estate must follow state laws, including providing notice to heirs and creditors, and preparing inventories and accountings. Ultimately, assets are distributed to beneficiaries in accordance with either the will or state law if there is no will.

This probate process can be avoided with a trust. Trust administration unfolds much the same way, except there is usually no court involvement.

Some assets do not need to be “administered” and pass directly to beneficiaries. These can include life insurance, annuities, retirement accounts, and property titled as joint tenants with right of survivorship, and other assets that have a beneficiary designations or transfer on death (“TOD”) or pay on death (“POD”) designations.

An estate administrator also must determine whether any tax returns need to be filed and oversee their preparation. Income tax returns for the decedent may be required. And if estate or trust assets generate income during the administration, then income tax returns for the estate or trust may also be needed. Clients often are concerned about estate taxes; Arizona has no state estate tax, and the federal estate tax applies once an estate of a single person exceeds the amount of the federal estate-tax exclusion, which varies each year.

During the estate planning process, it is important to carefully consider who might be the best candidates to administer your estate. Keep in mind that maintaining good records can make their job a lot easier. If you are tasked with the job of administering an estate, we would advise you to consult with an attorney so that you are informed about your duties and obligations, as well as the liabilities that you assume when you undertake this fiduciary responsibility.

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Fleming & Curti, PLC was very helpful as both legal counsel for our elderly Aunt’s Trust and as Health Care Power of Attorney. Both Legal Counsel and Case Worker’s were transparent and responsive to family inquiries.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.