Probate is the legal process wherein a deceased person’s property is distributed to their heirs and beneficiaries. Debt that is owed to creditors is also addressed during probate. Typically, a last will and testament is in place to direct these efforts. However, in the instance where no will exists, the court will apply Colorado state law in order to distribute the deceased’s estate.
The Down Side of Probate
Probate court can be extremely time consuming and expensive if the state is tasked with handling every aspect of an estate’s distribution. This is typically a point in time when families are dealing with immense grief and stress over the reality of a lost loved one. Having to navigate a court system only adds to this stress and can even lead to fighting within the family. Its for this reason that many people endeavor to avoid or minimize probate to some extent.
Colorado Intestacy Laws
If a person passes without a will in place, their estate is known as an “intestate estate.” If a will does exist, the estate is known as a “testate estate.” In the case of an intestate estate (no will), property is dispersed according to Colorado state law – typically finding its way to the closest living relatives of the deceased, even if it is contrary to what the deceased person would have preferred. This can cause delays and additional costs if the heirs or their whereabouts are unknown.
How Long does the Colorado Probate Process Take?
According to the American Bar Association, the probate process typically takes about six to nine months to complete. However, this can vary significantly, often stretching into multiple years if there are disputes that need to be addressed. Of course, time tends to translate into cost. Long, drawn out probate disputes can be extremely expensive to resolve. It’s for these reasons that most people would prefer to execute a will in order to make their wishes clear and to nominate an appropriate person to administer the estate. For people in this situation, we would encourage them to speak to our attorneys about creating a will.
How to Avoid Probate in Colorado
While avoiding probate in Colorado is not always necessary, it can be fairly easy to accomplish.
Execute a Last Will
While a last will is not enough to allow you to avoid probate in Colorado, it can often streamline the process by dictating the manner in which your property is distributed. In this document you will name an executor (known in Colorado as a personal representative) to administer the probate estate. Our attorneys can walk you through this process to ensure everything is drafted and submitted properly.
Establish a Living Trust
Living trusts are particularly helpful for certain individuals, such as those with out-of-state property, a very high net worth, or blended families. These documents are more expensive than a last will. They also require regular maintenance. However, they come with the upside of allowing your heirs to avoid probate altogether if all assets are titled properly. A trust can handle complex disbursements even including business ownership. To keep things streamlined, the trustee you’ll name in a living trust can be the same person as the executor/personal representative in your last will.
Name a Beneficiary
There are many types of property and accounts that can be passed to a beneficiary upon a person’s death by operation of law, which are not affected by a will or probate process. Retirement and bank accounts for example almost always come with the ability to assign a “transfer-on-death” beneficiary. This is a fantastic way to avoid having financial resources necessary to properly handle a person’s death getting tied up in probate or to simplify one’s estate, where appropriate.
Probate in Colorado: Where to Start
Because probate in Colorado can vary so much in complexity, it’s typically best to start the process by speaking with an attorney. A good estate planning attorney can ensure that you haven’t missed any critical steps in this process. At Brestel Bucar, our attorneys are here to help you create and execute a plan that is best for your loved ones. Get in touch today.