All 50 states have specific probate laws used to legally transfer assets to recipients or heirs when a decedent passes away.
If a will exists, the process of probate refers to testate estates. Probate procedures without a will are classified as intestate estates. Although the degree of court involvement will vary as a result of the will’s complexity, all wills or intestate estates must be probated.
Colorado happens to be one of eighteen states upholding the Uniform Probate Code (UPC) procedure. UPC helps to simplify (shorten) the court procedures covering the determination of a will (validity), executor functions and the process of administering the estate. Each action assures the final wishes are executed, debts and taxes are paid, and the successor distributions are accomplished.
Though the laws have standardized the court process, probate processes can be complicated. An experienced probate attorney can help in filing the paperwork to avoid mistakes triggering delays in finalizing an estate’s probate.
A probate lawyer is necessary when disputes between heirs, creditors, or beneficiaries are filed. If the will is invalid or the successors believe the assets are unfairly distributed, contesting the probate proceeding requires legal expertise.
Colorado law requires the will of the decedent to be filed with the District Court of residence or the county where the property is located within ten days of passing.
A discovery meeting needs to be scheduled with the estate planning and probate attorney to disclose how the assets were owned at the time of death. Why? Some assets may not have to go through the probate process, or the intestacy laws may not control the distribution.
The will’s provisions control assets owned in the decedent’s name or without a designated beneficiary. Joint tenancy assets including real property or bank accounts, IRAs or life insurance policies with named beneficiaries will pass directly without any legal obligation to the probate process.
UPC helps to expedite Colorado’s probate process. In most cases, when the will or estate planning is formulated with the assistance of an estate lawyer, the probate process is completed within a year.
A contested probate proceeding can take years to resolve when family disagreements occur or federal, or state tax filing requirements pop up.
Three probate forms recognized by Colorado Probate Code §Title 15, Article 10 include:
Small estates under $64,000 (minus liens or debts) in personal property with no real property. Real property is defined as land or building. The entitled parties (successor or executor) collecting the assets are charged with the duties of distribution.
A Colorado Small Estates Affidavit must be filed notifying the probate court that assets meet the small estate laws to avoid the court process.
Uncontested estates known as informal proceedings involve a valid will or clear intestacy. Over ninety percent of Colorado probate cases fall into this category. A qualified executor or entity (personal representative) named in the will must be appointed and held responsible for completing the process.
Though the court plays a limited role in the administration, it ensures the wishes of the deceased are carried out as stated in the will or by intestacy law.
Contested estates require formal probate procedures. It happens when the validity of the will is questioned involving disputes identifying heirs, verifying property title ownership or accusation of coercion (undue pressure placed on the decedent at the time of signing the will).
Supervised court proceedings occur when contested probate proceedings are a direct result involving the personal representative’s competency. The court (judge) can stipulate the executor (personal representative) proceed with the distribution or mandate all transactions be supervised. The purpose of court supervision is to prevent any future claims of negligent conduct.
In Colorado, all estates are subject to some level of probate. Early estate planning can help to simplify the future process and avoid distribution delays for the named successors. An experienced probate lawyer can explain how the legal process works to grant the deceased wishes and the estate’s execution.