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Arkansas Inheritance Laws: What You Should Know

Sarah Fisher
Whitaker Point Hawksbill Crag in Arkansas

Arkansas does not have a state inheritance or estate tax. However, like any state, Arkansas has its own rules and laws surrounding inheritance, including what happens if the decedent dies without a valid will. This article covers probate, how to successfully create a valid will in Arkansas, and what happens to your estate if you die without a will. If you want professional guidance for your estate planning after reading this article, the SmartAsset matching tool will pair you with capable financial advisors in your area who will assist you throughout this process.

Does Arkansas Have an Inheritance Tax or an Estate Tax?

Arkansas does not collect an estate tax or an inheritance tax. However, if you are inheriting property from another state, that state may have an estate tax that applies. You will also likely have to file some taxes on behalf of the deceased.

Other Necessary Tax Filings

When you die, there are many federal and estate tax situations that need to become a priority for those who survive you. Besides the state estate tax, you need to look out for the following:

  • Final individual federal and state income tax returns – the federal and state tax returns are due by Tax Day of the year following the individual’s death.
  • Federal estate/trust income tax return – due by April 15 of the year following the individual’s death
  • Federal estate tax return – due nine months after the individual’s death, though an automatic six-month extension is available if asked for prior to the conclusion of the nine-month period
    • This is required only of individual estates that exceed a gross asset and prior taxable gift value of $11.58 million in 2020

To file any of these estate-based returns, you’ll need to apply for an employer identification number (EIN) with the IRS. You can do this online, by fax or via mail.

Dying With a Will in Arkansas

In order for your will to be legitimate in Arkansas, you must state that the document is your will and sign it in front of two witnesses. If you have already signed your will, you can acknowledge to your witnesses the signature you previously signed. If you cannot sign your own name, you can direct someone else to sign your name while you witness the signature. Your witnesses must sign your will in front of you. Your witnesses must be disinterested, which means that they are not inheriting anything in the will. If an heir signs the will, they may lose their inheritance. You do not have to notarize your will in order to make it legal. However, you can make your will “self-proving,” which helps to speed up the probate process. In order to do that you will need to go to a notary. A “self-proving” will speeds up the probate process because the court can accept the will without contacting the signing witnesses. You can make your will self-proving if you and your witnesses go to a notary and sign an affidavit that states who you are and that each of you knew you were signing the will.

Once the will is determined to be valid, the next step is the probate process. Probate proceedings are usually only required if the deceased person owned any assets in their name only. Other assets, also known as “non-probate” property, can generally be transferred to the other owner without probate.

Arkansas has not adopted the Uniform Probate Code. However, the state does offer a simplified probate procedure for small estates. An estate can qualify if the personal property in the estate is not worth more than what the surviving spouse, if any, or minor children, if any, are entitled to free of debt through dower and curtesy and statutory allowances. An estate can also qualify if the value of the estate after encumbrances, the homestead, and any statutory allowances for the benefit of a spouse or minor children are subtracted is $100,000 or less.

In order to use the simplified probate process, the executor files a written request with the local probate court asking to use the simplified procedure. The court can then allow the executor to distribute the property. The executor’s request must have a list of the decedent’s personal property and its value, a legal description and value of any real property including the homestead, the names and addresses of anyone who has the deceased person’s personal property and anyone who is residing at the real property, and the names, addresses and relationship of the inheritors to the deceased person. The request must also state that there are no unpaid claims against the estate, and that if the decedent received federal or state benefits the estate has already reimbursed the Department of Human Services. The executor must also attach a copy of the will and pay a $25 fee to file the affidavit. The executor must have also published a notice of the death and the filing within 30 days of filing the affidavit that states that any creditors must make claims against the estate within three months from the date of publishing the notice.

Dying Without a Will in Arkansas

Woman helping a man complete his will

If you die without a valid will, you end up losing control over what happens to your assets after your death. Alaska inheritance laws label these types of estates “intestate,” which means there is no will, or no valid will. The court will then follow intestate succession laws to determine who inherits your assets, and how much they get.

If there isn’t a will, the court will appoint someone, usually an adult child or surviving spouse, to be the executor or personal representative. The executor or personal representative takes care of the estate of the decedent.

Although there are usually extenuating factors when someone dies intestate, it is best to avoid putting your loved ones through that kind of stress. If you’re not sure what kind of estate plan you want to make, you can seek the help of a financial advisor specializing in legacy planning.

Spouses in Arkansas Inheritance Law

Whether or not you have a will when you die, your spouse will inherit your property through a doctrine known as “dower and curtesy.” If you have no children or descendants, your spouse automatically inherits half of your real estate and half of your personal property. If you have children or other descendants, your spouse has the right to a third of your real estate for life. After your death, your children or descendants will inherit the property outright, except for the third that your spouse is entitled to. Your spouse will then inherit a third of your personal property.

After the rules of dower and curtesy are adhered to, the rest of the property is your intestate property, since it is the only property that would have passed under a will if you had made one, and not in any other way. The amount of intestate property your spouse inherits depends on how long you were married and whether or not you have living descendants.

If you were married for three or more years and have no descendants, your spouse inherits everything, If you were married less than three years, your spouse inherits half of your intestate property. The rest then goes to other surviving relatives, laid out in the chart below.

Children in Arkansas Inheritance Law

If you have descendants, such as children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren, but no surviving spouse, they will inherit all of your intestate property. If you have a surviving spouse, they will inherit all of your intestate property, which is what remains after dower and curtesy.

Intestate Succession: Spouses and Children Inheritance Situation Who Inherits Your Property Descendants but no spouse – Descendants inherit everything Spouse of at least three years, no children – Spouse inherits everything Spouse of less than three years, no children – Spouse inherits half of intestate property
– Parents, siblings, or other relatives inherit half of intestate property Spouse and children – Spouse inherits 1/3 of personal property and inherits 1/3 of real property in the form of a life estate
– Children inherit 2/3 of personal property and all real property except for the life estate

Under Arkansas law, adopted children have just as much right to their share of intestate inheritance as biological children do. In addition, if the decedent placed their child up for adoption and that child was adopted by another family – other than your spouse – they are not legally eligible to receive intestate inheritance from the decedent. However, foster children and stepchildren who were never legally adopted by the decedent are not eligible to receive a share as the decedent’s child.

Children born outside of marriage still receive their share if you later marry the child’s mother, a court establishes your paternity, you acknowledge in writing that you are the child’s father, your name appears with your written consent on the child’s birth certificate, or you are obligated to support the child by court order or under a written voluntary promise. Any child born to the decedent’s wife during their marriage is assumed to be his child and will receive a share of the estate. If you had a child during an attempted marriage that was later declared void, that child is still considered your legitimate child. Any children conceived after a married woman is artificial inseminated with the consent of her husband is considered a legitimate child. Consent of the husband is assumed unless proven otherwise. The decedent’s children can still receive their share if they are born after the decedent’s death. Grandchildren will receive a share only if their parent is not alive to inherit.

Unmarried Individuals Without Children in Arkansas Inheritance Law

Intestate succession in Arkansas if there is no surviving child or spouse is arranged as in the chart below:

Intestate Succession: Extended Family Inheritance Situation Who Inherits Your Property Parents – Parents inherit everything Siblings but no parents – Siblings inherit everything

Although there’s an intestate process designed to make sure your family inherits, it is generally best to write your own will to ensure that all of your property ends up in the hands you want it in. If no eligible relatives can be found, your property will end up owned by Arkansas.

Non-Probate Arkansas Inheritances

A couple with their dog in a canoe floating down an Arkansas river.

Because the probate process can be difficult and expensive, you’ll want to know what your options are when it comes to avoiding probate in Arkansas. Listed below are some of the assets that will not have to go through probate and instead go directly to the beneficiaries.

Other Situations in Arkansas Inheritance Law

Arkansas has a survivorship period. In order to inherit under Arkansas’s intestate succession statutes, the heir in question must survive you by at least five days. In addition, relatives conceived before you die but born after you die, known as posthumous relatives, are eligible to inherit as if they had been born while you were alive. Posthumous relatives are only eligible to inherit if they are your descendants. Descendants are children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on, not siblings, aunts, or other types of relatives.

Immigration status is irrelevant when it comes to inheritance. If a relative of yours is entitled to a share of your assets, they can inherit no matter what their citizenship status is. Half-relatives inherit as much as “whole” relatives. For example, your half-sibling would get the same share as any other sibling.

Resources for Estate Planning

Managing your own estate, or figuring out how to manage an inheritance, can get complicated. That’s why many people choose to work with a financial professional.

The SmartAsset financial advisor matching tool will pair you with as many as three local financial advisors. If you’re ready to work with a financial advisor in your area, get started now.

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