Updated on September 5th, 2023
An Alaska last will and testament enables a person to leave instructions for distributing their assets, property, and possessions to their beneficiaries after death. By specifying how assets are transferred, the testator (person creating the will) can limit the possibility of family members and other beneficiaries contesting the will or claiming a larger portion of the estate.
A will also details how the testator wants other important affairs handled, such as the appointment of a personal representative, a guardian for minor children, and any special bequests.
Any individual 18 years of age or older who is of sound mind can create a will.
Holographic Wills – A will written and signed in the testator’s handwriting is acceptable by the court.
Revocation – A will is canceled if a new version is made or the testator purposefully destroys it, referred to as a “revocatory act.”
Signing Requirements – In order to be legally binding, a will must be in writing, signed by the testator, and witnessed by two individuals. Any person “generally competent” may witness a will, even if they are an interested party.
Probate Process in Alaska (12 steps)
According to the Alaska Court System’s Self-Help Probate Services, settling a person’s estate after death can take 6-12 months, although in many cases it takes several years. There is no minimum waiting period to commence the probate process; a family member of the decedent or the personal representative can file to open probate “as soon as practical after death.”
- Gather Initial Documents
- Personal Representative
- Informal or Formal Process
- Open Probate
- Representative Bond (If Applicable)
- Notify Heirs and Devisees
- Notify Creditors
- Special Payments
- Prepare Inventory
- Distribute Property
- Close Probate
If the value of an individual’s estate is less than $100,000 in vehicles and $50,000 in personal property, the beneficiaries can file an Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property of Decedent (a “small estate affidavit”) to bypass the probate process.
The following documents must be obtained to prepare for the probate process:
- Original Will
- Death Certificate – It can take several weeks to obtain the death certificate, so a Death Certificate Request Form should be sentth to the Vital Records Office as soon as possible. It’s important to get multiple certified copies to present to entities holding the decedent’s property. The cost is $30 for the first copy, $25 for each additional copy.
If the testator named a personal representative in their will, this person will be automatically appointed to administer the estate. Otherwise, priority of appointment is based on the following order:
- The decedent’s spouse if they receive a gift under the will.
- Any person who receives a gift under the will.
- The decedent’s spouse if they did not receive a gift under the will.
- Any heir of the decedent.
- Any creditor of the decedent, as long as 45 days have passed since death.
The typical probate process in Alaska, “informal probate,” involves less court supervision than a formal process. This general overview will cover the informal probate process, as it is the most common.
The formal process is generally reserved for situations where the will is invalid/misplaced, the personal representative’s appointment is challenged or objected to, or too much time has passed since the decedent’s death, amongst other reasons.
To commence informal probate proceedings, the personal representative must file the following forms with the probate court in the judicial district where the decedent lived:
- Original Will
- Death Certificate
- Request to Start Informal Probate (Form P-315)
- Statement Starting Informal Probate (Form P-316) – Leave Blank
- Acceptance of Duties by Personal Representative (Form P-335)
- $250 filing fee
The court will then complete the Statement Starting Informal Probate (Form P-316) and the Letters Testamentary by Court (second page of Form P-335).
A bond is used to ensure the personal representative performs their duties and doesn’t misuse their power or improperly distribute the estate’s assets. It is often the case that either the decedent’s will contains a provision waiving the bond requirement or each devisee in the will (person to receive property) signs a Waiver of Bond Requirement (Form P-334).
If the representative is required to file a bond, the amount will be set using one of the following methods:
- The amount established in the will
- An amount set by the court
- An amount equal to the estimated value of the decedent’s personal property plus the income that will be generated by all real and personal property in the following year
As soon as practical, the personal representative must make a reasonable effort to find all known creditors of the decedent and send them each a copy of the Notice to Creditors (Form P-341). This notice must also be published once a week for three weeks in a newspaper from the district where probate was filed. The newspaper will send the representative a list of dates the notice was published so they can file an Affidavit of Publication (Form P-342) with the court.
Creditors have four months after the first publication date to make a claim against the estate. If any claim is deemed invalid by the representative, they can attempt to reject the claim by sending the claimant a Notice of Disallowance (Form P-345) and filing a copy with the court. This must be done no later than 60 days after the four-month claim period has passed.
Alaska law states that special payments must be made to surviving family members of the decedent to make sure they receive proper financial support. The following payments have priority over creditors’ claims, taxes, debts, and probate costs and are in addition to any other portion of the estate the family will receive as per the will:
- Homestead Allowance – $27,000 to the surviving spouse or, if none, split between the decedent’s minor/dependent children.
- Family Allowance – $18,000 (could be more or less) to surviving spouse and minor children who were being supported by the decedent.
- Exempt Property – $10,000 to the surviving spouse or, if none, split between all decedent’s children (regardless of age or dependency).
The personal representative is responsible for preparing an inventory and safeguarding the assets of the estate. The Inventory of Property (Form P-370) must be completed and filed with the court within three months of the representative’s appointment, and copies must be sent to interested parties upon request.
The personal representative is responsible for making sure all the estate’s taxes are in order. Firstly, they should apply for an Employer Identification Number (sometimes called a Taxpayer Identification Number) for the estate by filing IRS Form SS-4. In order to perform tax matters on behalf of the estate, the representative will also have to file a Notice Concerning Fiduciary Relationship (IRS Form 56).
Once the estate has been assigned an EIN and the personal representative is accepted as the tax fiduciary, the representative can file the following tax documents on behalf of the decedent and their estate:
After all debts and creditors’ claims have been settled, the personal representative can transfer ownership of the estate’s property to the appropriate beneficiaries. Once all property has been transferred, the representative will have to file a Final Accounting and Proposed Distribution (Form P-380) with the court along with a signed Receipt and Release (Form P-385) from each beneficiary.
An informal probate case can be completed using one of the following options:
- Sworn Statement – The personal representative can complete and file a Sworn Statement of Personal Representative to Close Informal Estate (Form P-355), in which case no court hearing is needed. The representative will maintain their appointment for one year, after which it will end automatically as long as no claims or other issues arise.
- Formal Request – This option can be used even if an informal probate case was filed, and it requires the representative to file a Request to Close Formal Estate and Approve Distribution (Form P-360). The court will set a hearing date and all interested parties must receive a copy of the Request to Close form to notify them of said hearing. At the court hearing, the judge will review the Inventory of Property and the Accounting and Proposed Distribution. Upon court approval, the case will be closed and the representative’s appointment will terminate immediately.