Spread the love

In this post, I discuss the various steps in the Arkansas probate process. For more detailed information, please see my book, The Simple Guide to Estate Planning: A Look at Wills, Trusts, and Taxes.

Arkansas probate

Photo by Clyde Robinson is licensed under CC 2.0. This content uses referral links.

Probate is the process by which the courts settle a person’s estate after death. It is the means by which courts distribute property to the deceased’s heirs. (Non-probate property, however, generally bypasses this process entirely.)

Below is a general description of the Arkansas probate process. Please note that it is just a general overview. The process can be very straightforward, incredibly complex, or anything in between. Individual circumstances will vary.

Important Documents for Arkansas Probate

There are several necessary documents associated with the Arkansas probate process. These should be readily available to the court. These documents include:

  1. The will, if one exists.
  2. The decedent’s death certificate.
  3. Deeds to the decedent’s real property.
  4. Information on the decedent’s other property and bank accounts.
  5. A complete list of the decedent’s assets, including life insurance policies.

The Role of the Arkansas Probate Attorney

Attorneys can play a valuable role during the probate process. An attorney can represent the estate itself, the executor of the estate, or the beneficiaries of the estate. (Who the attorney represents depends on the circumstances.)

The Arkansas probate attorney will need to know a variety of information associated with this decedent. At the very least, the attorney will require the following pieces of information.

  1. Date of death.
  2. Date and place of birth.
  3. The decedent’s last known address.
  4. The decedent’s social security number.

In addition, the attorney will need the decedent’s will, if there is one. If there is a will, it must be attested or holographic. If there is no self-proving affidavit, the court will also require the witnesses to the will signing to testify. The executor should also search for any will codicils—or amendments.

The Executor

The estate must have a personal representative through the process. This individual is known as the executor. (Technically, this term is only appropriate where the decedent names the estate’s representative in a will.)

If there is no will naming an executor, then the court will appoint a representative. This person is called the administrator. An administrator nonetheless enjoys similar powers to an executor. In fact, the two terms are often interchangeable. Usually, an Arkansas probate court will name a next of kin as the administrator.

Whether the court names an executor or an administrator, both function as the estate’s representative.

The attorney involved may also petition the court to have a personal representative appointed. After filing the petition with the Arkansas probate court, the attorney can file a testament of acceptance. The attorney files this on behalf of the desired personal representative.

The court will then sign an order appointing the representative. After this, the clerk of the court should sign letters testamentary. Letters testamentary provide the representative with the authority to act on behalf of the estate.

These are vital documents and should be kept in a safe place. Some companies require the originals before accepting the authority of the estate’s representative to act.

Spousal Rights

In a previous post, I discussed dower and curtesy rights. A particular circumstance arises where a will does not provide the spouse with the minimum the law requires.

A surviving spouse is entitled to a minimum inheritance by law. A testator cannot, therefore, disinherit a surviving spouse without that spouse’s consent.

In such circumstances, an Arkansas probate court will allow the spouse to elect against the will. That is, the spouse may choose to accept the provisions of the will or to take the statutory minimum. (This is frequently what the surviving spouse would have inherited had the decedent died without a will. This, however, is not always the case.)

The representative must notify the surviving spouse of a statutory right to the estate. The representative must do this within one month of the court’s issuing letters testamentary. A surviving spouse is entitled to whatever dower and curtesy rights provide. It does not matter if the will provides for less.

Notice, Heirs, and Beneficiaries

The representative must notify heirs at law when probate begins, even if they are not beneficiaries under the will. (Heirs at law are generally those who inherit under the intestacy statute.) The representative must notify all will beneficiaries as well.

While the heirs at law and beneficiaries are often the same people, such is not always the case. Beneficiaries have the right to an accounting and to appear in court, though they may waive this right, should they so choose. Waivers must be sent with proof of service and filed with the court.

General Notice

The representative must publish notice of the impending Arkansas probate process in the newspaper. This publication serves to notify creditors and potential heirs.

Arkansas requires a six-month credit-claim period. This means that creditors have six months to file claims against the estate. The clock begins to run with the publication of the newspaper ads.

The representative must publish this notice for two weeks in a row. The representative must also provide the court with proof of the publication.

Once the six-month period has ended, the representative must file a petition with the court to finalize the payment of claims. The representative can distribute assets to heirs only after paying creditors. (Some rights of heirs, however, take priority over creditors.) When the representative distributes assets, he or she must also provide receipts evidencing the distribution.

Estate Tax Returns

Like the income tax, the estate tax requires the filing of its own tax return. The representative must file this within nine months of the decedent’s death. This may delay all or some distribution of assets.

The representative must sign the estate tax return and is personally liable for the payment of estate taxes. He or she should, therefore, take great care not to distribute too many assets early. This could leave the estate with insufficient funds to satisfy the tax liability due.

It is therefore usually advisable to wait until receiving the closing letter from the IRS before distributing assets. (The closing letter is the letter indicating the IRS has accepted the estate tax return.)

Completing the Arkansas Probate Process

After receiving the closing letter, the representative can file a report of distribution with the court. The court may then issue an order of approval for the distribution. Finally, the court may dismiss the representative.

An interested party may later petition the court to reopen the estate should another issue arise. There are, however, fees associated with doing so. Courts also generally disfavor doing this.

For more detailed information, please see my book, The Simple Guide to Estate Planning: A Look at Wills, Trusts, and Taxes.

No information contained on this site is intended to be, nor does it constitute, legal advice. Legal information provided is for general educational purposes only and may not accurately reflect the law’s application to your individual situation or circumstances. Nothing herein establishes an attorney-client relationship. See Terms and Conditions of Use for more information.

See Also:

Small Estate Probate

Ways to Avoid Probate


steve · April 2, 2015 at 11:23 pm

Does executor have the right to keep the heir/beneficiary to the estate from entering the home alone?

    Garrett Ham · April 5, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    These situations are often very fact specific. I can’t provide legal advice through this forum, so you may want to speak with an attorney in your area who can provide you with advice applicable to your individual circumstances.

Marilyn · October 16, 2015 at 8:57 pm

When notice is published in the newspaper, does only the executors name appear or should all heirs names appear in the ad?

eric · October 24, 2015 at 8:27 am

What happens when a case has closed but no notice was published in a newspaper opening the estate to claims.

James Hamilton · April 4, 2016 at 10:37 am

When the death is a grandfather, who had 4 children. But 1 of the children has passed prior. Do the grand children have any rights?

    Garrett Ham · April 9, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    Maybe. Many times, the children of the deceased child will divide the deceased child’s share. This is not always the case, however, and will often depend on the terms of the grandfather’s will, if there is one.

Alphonso J. Guest · May 3, 2016 at 1:24 pm

How do I see if my dad’s land and animals are in probate in Arkansas?

Anonymous · September 13, 2016 at 9:46 am

In Arkansas does the probate period start after 2 week date of legal notice for creditors is published? Or from the date of filing order admitting will to probate ?

Kim · September 16, 2016 at 3:36 pm

Estate is alleged insolvent; Decedent had a will according to his ex-wife; alleged executor (ex-wife) will not provide copy of will to beneficiaries or Decedent’s kids; there are debts against the Estate; should some type of notice be recorded or should the will be filed even if Estate is insolvent? Ex-wife says Decedent had no assets, except an old truck and $200 in the bank. Kids just want a copy of the Will, nothing else. What can they do to get a copy of the Will?

Anonymous · October 13, 2016 at 11:14 am

Can someone object to the probate? And, if so, who is responsible for paying the legal fees of the person who objects to the probate?

For instance. A Mother dies. she has no Will, so the estate goes to Probate. In Arkansas, the estate goes the heir’s of the mother. In this case, she has 1 living son. The brother of the mother doesn’t think the son should get anything, so he objects to this probate and goes out and hires his own attorney to fight the probate.

Who is responsible for his attorney fees?

    Garrett Ham · October 16, 2016 at 11:14 am

    This could depend on the specifics of the situation. If you are facing a situation similar to the one you described, you may want to speak with a local attorney.

Rod Green · February 10, 2017 at 8:39 am

Are their any time limits from beginning to end of the whole probate process?

Katherine Richards · May 22, 2017 at 2:35 pm

What are the options when a person dies, the surviving spouse is the known primary beneficiary but the will cannot be found. The surviving spouse also has a well but the deceased in his primary beneficiary as well. The children were shown the wills several years ago but they cannot be found at this time.

Anonymous · July 11, 2017 at 8:33 pm

If a father of 2 children dies, but he was not married to their mother and there was no will. It is my understanding the beneficiaries would be the children. The grandfather of the children became administrator of the estate, but has no relationship with his grandchildren. He has filed papers to become the guardian of the estate for the children. Can the mother of the children contest this or request another guardian if needed? This is in Arkansas.

shane cheatham · October 13, 2017 at 11:57 am

What is a receipt of distributee? I am in my grandfathers will and have inherited half of his estate. I just got this letter in the mail. Along with a waiver of notice and a waiver of accounting. My brother lives in Arkansas in my grandfathers estate and has inherited the other half. I’m not there I live in California. To be honest I’m afraid to sign all three. Only my brothers name is on them and he was named Executor. I don’t know what to do.

    Garrett Ham · October 29, 2017 at 4:33 pm

    You should consider speaking with a local attorney who can provide specific advice for your situation. I cannot provide individual legal advice through this forum.

Donna Baylor · January 24, 2018 at 9:36 pm

My mother passed away in 2016. I was noted on the will as the executor and 1/2 beneficiary, my brother the other half. While I was in contact with my lawyer getting all of the documents together, my brother somehow got his attorney and a judge to remove me as executor. I received no notification of court appearance not even a notice of being removed. My attorney happen to find it going through court papers. Now the 6 months has gone by as he filed the inventory in the paper for claims against the estate. My attorney sent me the forms and the inventory list has grown via “what was in the safe deposit box”. It actually includes items given to my daughters and I post death. The irony my grandmothers wedding rings were given to my daughter via my grandmothers will and my mother gave them to her in 2007 (when she was 21). It also mentions jewelry which was not even in there and the other jewelry was taken from the safe deposit box by request of my mother in 2013. She wanted to make sure we got the jewelry because it was sentimental. Plus she didn’t trust my brother x-wife to not get a hold of it. I am going to see what my lawyer tells me but, I am starting to feel a little uneasy because he didn’t even mention the changed inventory list. There is even more to the statement he added to the paperwork but, I am still in shock over his claims. I would like to know what the law says about an executor misstating an inventory. What if my daughters and I received this jewelry years before she passed and now he is trying to claim it as part of the inventory?

    Garrett Ham · February 18, 2018 at 11:12 am

    Ma’am, you may want to speak with a local attorney about your situation. I cannot provide specific personal legal advice through this forum.

Terra · February 20, 2018 at 9:46 pm

We are dealing with estate in Arkansas that had bank accounts with joint owners , POD on Life Insurance and IRA’s , joint owners on two vehicles , no property and nothing else of value that wasn’t co owned. Do we even have to file the will? The debt equals about 3k to credit card and hospitals , there is nothing to distribute among the heirs in the estate

Anonymous · January 8, 2019 at 8:15 pm

What if their are two heirs and they are in dissagreement on the division of land and I would very much like to have a chance to buy my mothers home will a have a chance to buy it if my sister wants it sold? My mother put her land in our name but not the home just wanna know what my rights are comcernihg her home

Tami billings · January 8, 2019 at 8:17 pm

What if their are two heirs and they are in dissagreement on the division of land and I would very much like to have a chance to buy my mothers home will a have a chance to buy it if my sister wants it sold? My mother put her land in our name but not the home just wanna know what my rights are comcernihg her home

Rachel Davis · February 25, 2019 at 10:39 am

My mother in law recently passed. My husband was an only child. Her husband passed 18 yrs ago. Is there a need to go through probate? He and I both hold power of attorney over all her stuff.

    Garrett Ham · March 11, 2019 at 3:21 am

    I cannot provide specific legal advice through this forum, so I’d recommend speaking with a local attorney about the details of your situation. Whether or not probate is required is very detail-specific. I can say, however, that powers of attorney do not survive death, so it is unlikely that any power of attorney will be able to assist you in lieu of probate. Anything that requires change of title–real estate, for example–will likely require probate, unless it passed through a non-probate mechanism–trust or beneficiary deed, for example. So, the cliché attorney answer, “It depends,” will govern here as well.

Anonymous · August 23, 2020 at 1:34 pm

My sister was born and died in Texas. Her only asset was a 1/3 share of one 40 acre property in Searcy County, Arkansas that is unimproved with no structure. She left no will but stated in a letter to her two children that they were her only heirs. She signed the letter ‘Mom’, and her name does not appear on the letter. We would like for her 1/3 share to be in the names of her children. Should legal proceedings happen in Arkansas or in Texas or both? Thank you very much for your input.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *