Probate is the formal process through which the deceased’s assets is distributed to heirs, and any debt owed to creditors is paid off. This process typically involves:
- Appointing someone to administer the estate;
- Proving the validity of the will in court; identification and inventorying of the decedent’s property;
- Appraisal of property;
- Payment of debt or taxes owed by the decedent; and
- The distribution of the decedent’s assets according to their will, if there is one, or the state’s law if there is no will.
The probate process can be time-consuming, and many may wish to avoid it. They can do so by utilizing trusts, life insurance policies, and joint tenancy.
Probate Process in Colorado
In Colorado, there are three ways in which probate is conducted: informal, formal, and supervised.
Informal probates comprise about ninety percent of Colorado probates. They are generally for estates where no one contests the distribution of assets, there is a clear and valid will, and a personal representative has been clearly identified.
A “registrar”, instead of a judge, handles this type of probate, and the personal representative (i.e. the person seeking distribution), does not need to retain an attorney to start the process. Although the court verifies who the personal representative is, the assets are usually distributed without the supervision of the court. Estates that are worth more than $64,000 will mostly go through informal probate proceedings.
If the validity of the will is in question, the estate is exceedingly complex, or incidental accusations exist, a case will enter formal probate proceedings. It is a court proceeding and a judge must actions taken by the personal representative, such as selling real estate or distributing assets.
Most commonly, this type of proceeding is necessary when there are disputes over the will. For example, a third party may have obtained the will through undue influence (the pressure one person puts on another in a context that holds legal significance) or coercion. In cases where a genuine legal complaint is made, formal procedures must be adhered to in order to provide both parties with a fair and impartial adjudication.
The Colorado court will supervise the entire probate when a beneficiary brings charges of inaccurate, negligent, or fraudulent distribution of assets by the personal representative of the estate. In such a proceeding, the court must approve all distribution of property.
Colorado presumes that personal representatives will act responsibly, prudently, and in good faith; therefore, less than one percent of informal probates are supervised.
In Colorado’s supervised probate proceedings, the personal representative must submit accurate, detailed, and timely accountings of asset distribution. Sometimes, a personal representative will actually request the Colorado court to supervise the distribution process in order to preclude any future claims of dishonest or negligent conduct on the personal representative’s part.
Additional Information About Colorado Probate
There many important things you should know before you face probate in Colorado:
- If an estate is worth $64,000 or less, and there is no real property, the heirs to the estate may sign a Small Estate affidavit to collect their assets.
- This allows them to avoid probate court altogether. This applies to all estates with or without wills worth $64,000 or less.
- All wills and intestate estates (estates for which there is no will) must be probated to some degree in the State of Colorado. A good understanding of Colorado probate law will help you make the right decisions concerning your estate planning.
- In Colorado, even if you have a will, your estate will be subject to probate if you own real estate titled only in your name and/or if the combined value of your assets is $64,000 or more.
- The process of probating an estate in Colorado does not have to take years; Colorado has laws which have streamlined the process, and most estates are finished with the probate process within a year.
- Probate cases can drag on for years, however, this usually due to family infighting, very large estates owing federal or state estate taxes, or estates that continue to earn income, such as estates belonging to celebrities.
- Common costs associated with probate include court fees, appraisal costs, personal representative’s fees, etc. These costs are affected by disputes, a complex estate, the size of the estate, and whether or not there is a will.
Do I Need an Attorney for Probate in Colorado?
A Colorado estate lawyer will help you through the oftentimes complicated probate process. Even for simple estates, an experienced attorney will ease the process by helping to file complicated paperwork, avoid common mistakes, and provide probate litigation in the event of a dispute. If you believe a will is invalid or being unfairly distributed, an estate lawyer will help you contest the probate proceeding and help you claim what is rightfully yours.
Effective estate planning early on can help ensure a smooth probate process for your family in the future. An estate lawyer will help you decide what’s best for you, your estate, and your heirs.