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Testate vs. Intestate: Planning Your Legacy in Arizona

by | Apr 4, 2024 | Intestate, Last Will and Testament, Testate, Will

Have you ever considered what happens to your belongings and assets after you pass away? If you haven’t, you’re not alone. However, taking the time to understand the legal process of inheritance can ensure your wishes are carried out and avoid unnecessary stress for your loved ones. Two key terms you’ll encounter in estate planning are “testate” and “intestate.” These terms define whether you have a will in place and how your estate will be handled. Let’s explore the differences between these two:

What Does “Testate” Mean?

“Testate” comes from the word “testator,” which refers to someone who has created a valid will. In a testate estate, the deceased individual has outlined their wishes for the distribution of their assets through a legal document – the will. Having a will in place of course comes with several key benefits:

  • Control: A will grants you significant control over how your assets are distributed. You can specify who receives what, including real estate, financial accounts, personal belongings, and more.
  • Naming an Executor: The will allows you to choose a trusted individual, also called a personal representative in Arizona, to oversee the administration of your estate and ensure your wishes are followed.
  • Minimize Disputes: A clear will reduces the likelihood of disagreements among family members about inheritance. A will can also include a “No Contest” clause to prevent disputes from arising among beneficiaries.
  • Guardianship Designation: You can designate a guardian for minor children in your will.
What Does “Intestate” Mean?

“Intestate,” as you can probably guess now, refers to someone who dies without a valid will. In this scenario, the laws of intestacy (also called “intestate succession”) in Arizona govern how your assets are distributed. This can have some very impactful drawbacks:

  • Loss of Control: State law, not you, decides how your assets are divided. This may not align with your wishes, potentially causing frustration and conflict among your heirs.
  • Probate Process: Intestate estates typically go through probate, a legal process that can be time-consuming and expensive. Even if you have a will in place, probate will be needed. This is why it is important to consider creating a living trust instead.
  • Guardianship: The court chooses a guardian for minor children if you haven’t designated one in a will.


Pro Tip: Don’t assume you are intestate just because you have a living trust instead of a will! If your trust was drafted by a reputable attorney, chances are you also have a special type of will called a “pour-over will” that transfers any assets left outside your trust to the trust upon your death. This means you are actually still considered to be testate. 

Why Does This Matter in Arizona?

Having a will allows you to personalize your legacy. You can leave specific gifts to loved ones, charities, or organizations that hold special meaning to you. An intestate estate simply divides assets according to a formula set by the state, which may not reflect your personal wishes. If you have a blended family or if you are estranged from any family members, you should seriously consider creating a will or trust to avoid the laws of intestate succession.

Taking Control: The Importance of Estate Planning

Having a will (or a trust) is a fundamental aspect of estate planning. It empowers you to make informed decisions about your legacy and ensures your loved ones are taken care of after you’re gone. An estate planning attorney can guide you through the process, draft a plan that reflects your specific needs, and address any complex aspects of your estate. If you’re looking to create a will or discuss your estate planning options, contact our experienced Arizona estate planning attorneys today. We can help you navigate the legalities, ensure your wishes are documented, and provide peace of mind for you and your family.