If you are here to learn about Alaska probate after the passing of a loved one, I first want to say that I'm very sorry for your loss.
I hope that the information you find on this page will simplify any legal and administrative headaches you might otherwise face during such a difficult time.
With that said, probate in Alaska is a court-supervised procedure that helps to ensure the legal transfer of assets from the deceased to the rightful heirs or beneficiaries. Probate is necessary to:
Prove the validity of the will
Appoint someone to manage the estate (The “personal representative” if there is no will or the “executor” if there is one)
Inventory and appraise the estate property
Pay any debts or taxes
Distribute the property as directed by the will — or by state law if there is no will
In Alaska, if someone has $150,000 in total assets or real property valued over $50,000, they will probably have to have their assets probated.
What’s so bad about probate in Alaska ... and what should I do next?
Many residents in Alaska have heard that probate is bad news. It tends to be very expensive, it’s time-consuming, and it’s also a public process.
The easiest way to avoid the probate process is to plan; but if you are now in a situation where you must go through the probate process to finalize the estate of a loved one, the best thing you can do is get educated and get help to complete the process as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.
How is a probate case started in Alaska?
Although any beneficiary or creditor can initiate probate, normally the person named in the will as the Executor starts the process by filing the original will with the court and filing a Petition with the probate court. If there is no will, typically a close relative of the decedent who expects to inherit from the estate will file the Petition.
How is the Executor or Personal Representative Chosen?
If the decedent had a will, the person named in the will as the Executor will serve, if eligible. If that person is unable or unwilling to serve as Executor, or if there is no Will, then any interested family member or person can petition the Court to be the Personal Representative of the estate.
How does the Executor or Personal Representative Get Paid?
Alaska law provides that the Executor or Personal Representative gets paid according to a compensation schedule, based on a percentage of the assets of the probate estate.
Could I Be Held Personally Liable for Making a Mistake as an Executor or Personal Representative?
Being an Executor or Personal Representative is a big responsibility. Alaska's probate code contains pages upon pages of complex legal rules and procedures that an Executor or Personal Representative must follow during the probate process. Also, there are certain deadlines that an Executor or Personal Representative must meet in filing papers with the Court. If an Executor or Personal Representative violates any of these rules, they can be held personally liable for losses to the estate.
My Loved One Had a Trust ... Will We Need to Go Through Probate?
In most cases, no. If your loved one’s assets are owned in the name of a Trust, the family can contact a lawyer who will complete some paperwork and guide the loved ones through the process of administering the trust with ease and without the need for court involvement.
Unfortunately, many people who have a Trust think they have it all taken care of. But time and again, family members of a recently passed loved one come into Cruz Law and they find out they are facing the frustration, expense, and delay of probate, even though the person they loved had a Trust.
Why is that?
Often the Trust was prepared many years ago and was never updated. Often, their loved ones’ assets were not owned in the name of their Trust. That is why it is so very important that you carefully choose your estate planning attorney and have regular reviews of your plan and assets so the planning you do now works as planned later.
It’s why Blyss does things differently than other lawyers and law firms, here at Cruz Law.
What Assets are Subject to Probate?
Assets owned solely in the name of the deceased person are subject to probate. Assets that pass by means of title, such as real estate titled as “Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship,” or jointly owned bank accounts or those titled as “Transfer On Death” are not subject to the probate process. Assets that pass by means of a beneficiary designation, such as life insurance or some retirement accounts, are also not subject to probate. In some situations, however, assets that would otherwise pass by title or beneficiary designation can be subject to the probate process. Talk to an attorney if you have questions about your specific situation.
How is Distribution of the Estate Handled if there is no Will?
If there is no will or trust, the estate will be distributed according to Alaska's probate and intestate laws, which state that a person’s estate will be distributed in the following order: 1. Spouse 2. Children 3. Parents (if you have no children) 4. Siblings (if you have no children or parents).
How Long Does Probate Take?
The length of time a probate case takes will depend on several factors. It usually takes a minimum of 12 months and can take up to two years or even longer for complex cases.
How Much Does Probate Cost?
Probate legal fees are set by state law. In Alaska, they are set forth in Alaska Probate Code Section [INSERT SECTION]. The fee is determined based on the size of the probate estate as follows:
4% of the first $100,000
3% of the next $100,000
2% of the next $800,000
1% of the next $9,000,000
½% of the next $15,000,000
For all amounts above $25,000,000, a reasonable amount to be determined by the Court.
The Personal Representative (i.e. Executor or Administrator) is also entitled to the statutory fee for their services. The Alaska Probate Court can order additional fees for more complicated cases or extraordinary services. There are also court costs and filing fees, document certification and recording fees, and property appraisal fees.
Getting Help: Choosing the Right Attorney for Your Probate Case
The best way to ensure your probate is done right is to choose your attorney wisely. Do not assume that all attorneys are the same! Too many lawyers only “dabble” in probate or trusts. Don’t choose a lawyer who does probate as a sideline because these lawyers often blunder causing real problems for their client, and their cases often take longer than those handled by experienced probate lawyers.
You don’t have to use the attorney who prepared the Will either! Just because a particular attorney prepared the Will does not mean that attorney must handle the probate, nor are they necessarily the right person for the job. You need to be comfortable with the attorney and confident that they are the right attorney for you. Choosing your probate or trust attorney is one of the most important decisions you will make. If you put in the time and effort to find the right attorney, you will be rewarded with a skillful guide who will help you navigate the probate process.
Contact Cruz Law for a Complimentary Post-Death Estate Review
If you’re ready to get started with the probate process after the passing of a loved one, please contact Blyss Cruz, an experienced Alaska probate attorney at (907) 313-9796, or click here to schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation to help determine your next best steps to make the probate process as easy as possible.
During this appointment, Blyss will answer all of your questions about probate and guide you and your family through the next best steps. Blyss is committed to helping you administer your loved one’s estate as quickly and efficiently as possible, and looks forward to relieving any administrative or legal burdens you may face during this time of loss.