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“Probate” can mean a lot of things. Sometimes it refers to the process of proving the validity of a will. At other times it refers to the court where wills, estates, trust administration, and even guardianships and conservatorships are handled.

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Estate Administration

Estate administration begins in probate when the Court determines whether the decedent died with a valid will. If there is no will, or the decedent’s will is determined to be invalid, then the heirs are identified through the probate process. During this process an executor, who is called “Personal Representative” is appointed by the Court to administer the estate. Certain documents must be filed with the Court during the probate process and the Court will oversee the actions of the Personal Representative during the administration of the estate.

The Personal Representative is a fiduciary tasked with identifying and collecting assets, paying creditors, and eventually distributing assets to beneficiaries or heirs. If the decedent created a will, the Personal Representative is required to distribute property according the terms of the decedent’s will. If there is no will, the Personal Representative will distribute property according to state laws of intestacy. Those laws aim to approximate most people’s wishes, which is if married, to your spouse (unless the decedent has children from another relationship), if no spouse, to children or, if children are not then living, their descendants; if no spouse and no children with descendants are living, then to parents, if living; if not, to aunts and uncles, and then cousins, and then more remote relatives.


Probate has many specific requirements. One of them is “notice to creditors,” which is notifying anyone the decedent might owe money. The law provides a step-by-step process for paying creditors. The law of each state prescribes a manner to provide notice to creditors, and an order which creditors must be paid. If there are not enough assets in an estate to satisfy all creditor claims, then the Personal Representative must follow the law about which creditors should be paid first.

Many people believe that probate should be avoided. Some think the process is lengthy and costly. In Arizona (unlike some other states), probate is not particularly costly or lengthy, as long as the facts of the case are not too complex, and parties are agreeable. Although it is difficult to predict how any given proceeding will unfold, most probate cases go smoothly and are completed within six to twelve months of the decedent’s death and cost several thousand dollars. Estates with complex assets or distribution requirements cost more and take longer, and disagreements among beneficiaries increase time and expense exponentially.

One common misconception is that the government gets extra money from probates. Aside from the court filing fee, there will not be extra fees imposed by state, local, or federal authorities as a result of probate. An estate can “escheat to the state,” which means probate estate property transfers to the state. That is rare and occurs only if no heirs can be found.

Some people also worry about privacy. Although notice is published for creditors and court filings are available at the courthouse, most private details (like the inventory of assets) generally do not become part of the public record. Not every estate has to pass through probate. The process can be avoided by having an estate plan that utilizes trusts, holding assets jointly with right of survivorship, and completing beneficiary designations. In Arizona, if a decedent’s probate assets total less than $75,000 in personal property a simple, small estate collection procedure is available as an alternative approach to probate. Another simplified proceeding can be used for net real estate values up to $100,000.

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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.