The way in which estate plans are created and estate assets are distributed are dictated by state laws. Therefore, those who are familiar with their state's laws can usually craft an estate plan that suits their needs. In some instances, though, these matters can be complicated, particularly if an individual owns property in different states.
Generally speaking, the assets of an estate must go through probate before they can be distributed to heirs and beneficiaries. There are some exceptions, such as transfer on death accounts and assets that are placed in particular types of trusts. But when an individual owns assets in multiple states, then those assets are subject to the probate laws of that state. Therefore, if an individual lives and dies in Arizona, but owns property in Arizona and New Mexico, then the main estate will be probated in Arizona and an ancillary probate process will be initiated in New Mexico.
Being subjected to ancillary probate can be costly and time consuming, but it can also have serious ramifications for asset distribution, especially when an individual passes away without an estate plan. Each state's intestate laws vary, so those who pass away without an estate plan may have their assets distributed in a number of different ways that may be counter to their intentions.
Ancillary probate is often an unexpected challenge for estates, as well as for heirs and beneficiaries. The process may be avoidable, though, if an individual engages in thorough and holistic estate planning. The ins and outs of this process can quickly become confusing to the unaccustomed, which is why it is usually in an individual's benefit to discuss these matters with a knowledgeable legal advocate.