An Arkansas last will and testament is a legal document that sets out how the assets and property of an individual should be distributed after their death. Although there is no standard structure for a will, common provisions include the designation of beneficiaries, distribution of property and assets, appointment of an executor, burial instructions, and the guardianship of any minor children.
State law permits anyone who is at least 18 years old and of sound mind to make a will.
Holographic Wills – Handwritten wills are valid as long as the entire document and signature are in the testator’s handwriting.
Revocation – There are three ways to revoke a will:
- By execution of a new will that revokes the prior one in whole or part.
- By canceling or destroying the will with the testator’s intention to revoke it.
- If the testator divorces or their marriage is annulled, any provisions of their will in the spouse’s favor will be revoked.
Signing Requirements – The testator must execute the will in the presence of two witnesses, who must also sign.
Probate Process in Arkansas (8 steps)
Wills are required to be submitted to the probate court and granted administration within five years of the decedent’s death.
- Gather Supporting Documents
- Petition for Probate
- Bond and Letters Testamentary
- Publication of Notice
- Inventory of Estate Assets
- Payment of Estate Debts
- Court Hearing (If Applicable)
The following is meant to be a general overview of the probate process. It is recommended that executors/personal representatives consult with an attorney if they’re unsure of any step.
If the decedent’s estate has a value of $100,000 or less, the probate process can be entirely avoided with the filing of an Affidavit for Collection of Small Estate by Distributee at least 45 days after the decedent’s death.
Before the probate process begins, the following supporting documents should be located and assembled for filing:
- Decedent’s last will and testament
- Certified copy of the decedent’s death certificate
- List of the estate’s assets and equities
- Bank and account information related to the estate
- Deeds for any real property
- Petition for Probate of Will and Appointment of Personal Representative
- Demand for Notice of Proceedings for Probate of Will or Appointment of Personal Representative
- Petition for Appointment of Administrator
- Proof of Will
Through the filing of these forms, a personal representative will be appointed for the estate (called the “executor”). If no executor is named in the will, the court will appoint an administrator as personal representative.
If a bond is required under the will or by the court, the personal representative must obtain one from an insurer, complete the Bond of Personal Representative form, and submit it for approval by the court or court clerk. Upon the bond’s approval, the personal representative will be issued Letters Testamentary (for executors) or Letters of Administration (for administrators) that are used to prove their authority.
The personal representative is required to publish notice of the upcoming probate (see Notice of Hearing on Petition) in the local newspaper for two consecutive weeks and provide proof of publication to the court. The published notice must also inform heirs and creditors that they have six months from the publication date to file claims against the estate.
Within one month of publication, the personal representative must serve the notice on any known heirs, devisees, and creditors directly to inform them of their rights.
The personal representative will be required to make a full accounting of all of the decedent’s estate property included in probate (see Accounting by Personal Representative). This includes any real property, investments, business interests, and financial accounts in the decedent’s name. During this process, they will often open a bank account from estate proceeds to fund the payment of creditors.
Any creditors making claims against the estate must file an Affidavit to Claim Against Estate to be approved or denied by the court. All approved claims will be paid from the estate proceeds, while any denied claims necessitate probate court hearings.
When six months have passed since the publication of notice, no further claims will be heard.
A court hearing will take place under the following circumstances:
- The Petition for Probate is opposed.
- The Appointment of Administrator/Personal Representative is opposed.
- An interested party has filed a Demand for Notice.
- There are unresolved claims against the estate.
- There is a dispute between the beneficiaries regarding the estate’s distribution.
Notice of the hearing will be given to all interested parties. A hearing may happen during or after the six-month period, depending on the reason for the hearing.
Once all claims have been settled and a full accounting has taken place, the personal representative will oversee the distribution of the estate to its beneficiaries. To do this, they must file a final account and petition the court for an Order of Final Distribution and the authority to transfer the remaining estate assets as directed by the will.
If the beneficiaries have waived their right of notice and hearing, the court may order the estate’s immediate distribution. Otherwise, a hearing will be set at least 60 days from the final account and petition’s filing date.
The personal representative will be relieved of their duties once the distribution has been completed.