If you have no will, then you are considered to have passed “intestate,” and your property will pass as mandated by the Arkansas probate code. Instead of your property going to the people of your choice, it will go to your relatives as mandated by law. For example, if you are survived by a spouse, all community property goes to that spouse, and all separate property is shared by the spouse with your surviving children and grandchildren. In general, community property includes assets accumulated by a married person during the marriage. Separate property could be assets inherited by a spouse during a marriage, or property acquired before the marriage. If you are not survived by a spouse, your surviving children will share in all of your assets. If you pass with a will and it was properly executed, the will must be probated by the appropriate court and becomes effective then. A self-proving will can be admitted to probate without the testimony of witnesses, but if it is not then the court may require proof that the will is what it claims to be. Once probated, your property will pass according to the will.
There are two ways to access bank accounts: (1) You can use the small estate procedure if the total value of the decedent’s property is $100,000 or less. The heirs can use what is known as an “Affidavit for Collection” of a small estate to claim the funds. A copy of the affidavit, certified by the probate court, needs to be furnished to the bank, and they should release the funds. (2) If the value is more than $100,000, an executor or personal representative appointed by the probate court will have access to the funds.
The executor will need to provide documentation to the bank, such as an original death certificate and their court documents. If the account is joint account, then in most cases the funds are non-probate assets and will belong to the joint account owner. To sell a house owned by an estate, the executor must file a petition with the court asking for permission. The court will hold a hearing and then determine if the sale can take place.
Each heir to a decedent’s estate is owed a fiduciary duty by the executor. Each heir is owed an accounting, information about the actions of the estate, and a prompt distribution of his inheritance. The heir may ask the executor for an account of what actions the executor has taken on behalf of the estate, and any such report should be in writing. The executor should be expected to provide supporting documentation, such as receipts, reports and proof of any asset transfers. An heir may also ask for statements from an estate bank account. However, an heir must be proactive and take steps to enforce these rights by taking action such as filing petitions with the court.
If you live out of town or in another state but are an heir to an estate anywhere in the state of Arkansas, we can certainly help you, and often without you needing to travel. The majority of the legal work that we perform can be completed remotely. Additionally, we use technology whenever possible to facilitate client meetings, document signing and more. Currently, many courts in Arkansas are holding court via Zoom, so attorneys and parties can often attend from their location if necessary.