If you live in the state of Colorado, or if a family member or loved one has died in the Mile High State, you may need information about the basic laws governing inheritance, probate, and an estate. The Colorado Probate Code establishes the essential elements of law that govern the manner in which a deceased person’s estate is dealt with in Colorado. There are a number of key features of the law that need to be understood.
Defining Probate Assets or Probate Property
In defining what constitutes probate property, an initial step is defining what are the assets of a person’s estate, according to the inheritance laws in Colorado. Determining what property is part of an estate and subject to probate as defined by the inheritance law is really an exercise in determining what property is not included. Property that will not be included in an estate and subject to the probate process includes:
- Assets held in a trust
- Property jointly owned with someone else that has a right of survivorship
- Life insurance with a designated beneficiary that is not the estate
Estates with a Will
The inheritance laws of Colorado distinguish between a person who has died with a last will and testament and one who has not. Simply, when a person dies with a will, the manner in which property is inherited is generally set forth within the confines of that legal instrument. In other words, the last wishes of a person who has died are honored to the extent permitted by law.
When a person passes on with a will, that instrument designates what is known as an executor. An executor is a person designated to oversee the affairs of the estate, including ensuring the distribution of assets or property to the heirs as set forth in the will.
Estates without a Will
In a fair amount of cases in Colorado, a person dies without having written a will or established a trust. Thus, the assets of such an estate are distributed to people as prescribed by Colorado law. The Colorado Probate Code specifically delineates who and how property is to be distributed to family members when an individual dies without a will. This legally is called intestate succession.
In this type of situation, the probate court appoints a personal representative to oversee the affairs of the estate when no will was prepared. An administrator undertakes the same types of tasks as does an executor.
Types of Probate Processes
Colorado has essentially adopted the Uniform Probate Code. This is a legal code that is in use in many states across the country. Pursuant to the Uniform Probate Code, there are three different types of probate processes that are utilized in the event of a person’s death. These are:
The affidavit process is utilized when a person passes away, with or without a will, and has left assets behind with a value of $50,000 or less. There must also be no real estate.
Through the affidavit process, the property is identified, collected, and distributed to individuals designated in a will or pursuant to the Colorado intestate succession laws. When this is accomplished, an affidavit is filed with the probate court.
If an estate is valued at more than $50,000 or is less than that amount but involves real estate, either an informal or formal probate process must be pursued in court. A petition for probate is filed with the court. The presiding judge will undertake an initial review of the estate and make a determination as to whether or not it qualifies for the informal probate process.
If an estate qualifies for informal probate, the executor or personal representative is able to address the affairs of the estate with little involvement from the probate court. In many cases, the executor or personal representative will only need to file a document with the court when the affairs of the estate have been addressed advising the court of the conclusion.
On the other hand, if a judge determines a formal probate process must be utilized, the court will be more involved in the process of addressing the affairs of the estate. For example, the court will approve the sale of real estate before such a transaction can be undertaken.
In the aftermath of the death of a family member, consulting with a qualified attorney is advisable when it comes to ascertaining what will and will not be necessary in regard to Colorado probate, estate, and inheritance laws. The first step is seeking an initial consultation with a Colorado probate and estate lawyer, for which there typically is no cost.