It’s not uncommon to hear someone say, in the months after a death, that “the estate is tied up in probate.” Those words evoke an image of endless paperwork and interminable court hearings, not to mention significant expense. But how long does probate really take in Colorado?
The answer, of course, varies with the case, but one response that applies generally is, “not as long as it used to.” Colorado has adopted laws which have streamlined the process considerably. While probate is still a complex area of the law, the guidance of an experienced Colorado probate attorney can help the process move along smoothly.
How Long Do Small Estates Take to Administer?
For those deceased persons (decedents) who died owning no real property and with less than $64,000 in personal property, a type of probate process, known as a “small estate,” is available. Technically, a small estate does not require a probate action to be opened through the court. This process can be used whether or not the decedent had a last will and testament. The decedent’s devisees (if there was a will) or heirs (if there was not) sign an affidavit before a notary swearing that they are entitled to the assets, and that they will distribute them appropriately to any other heirs or devisees entitled to them.
There is no minimum time limit for a small estate. Depending on the amount and type of assets, and the number and location of heirs, the administration of a small estate can take as little as several weeks.
How Long Does Informal or Formal Probate Take?
If a decedent’s estate contains real property or exceeds $64,000 in probate assets, the estate will need to go through either informal (uncontested) or formal (contested) probate. Informal probate, the more common of the two, is used when there is a valid will or it is clear that no will existed; no contests are expected; and there is a qualified person ready to be appointed as personal representative. If the validity of the will is in question, or a will contest or other dispute is expected, formal probate is the appropriate process.
Colorado law requires that both informal and formal probate cases be open for a minimum of six months after the probate is opened. During this period, the personal representative of the estate gathers, inventories, values, and possibly liquidates estate assets; and potential creditors of the estate are notified and have an opportunity to make claims. The personal representative pays valid creditor claims and distributes the remaining assets to entitled heirs and devisees.
Of course, probate cases often do take much longer than six months, especially if there are disputes among heirs or devisees and complex or far-flung assets. Colorado probate requires a number of court filings, which if prepared incorrectly or incompletely, may hold up a probate case as well. One common delay in the probate process is filing the decedent’s last income tax return, when the IRS does not publish the tax forms until late December or early January following the year of death. Having the guidance of an experienced Colorado probate attorney can expedite the process considerably. We invite you to contact the experienced estate planning and probate attorneys at Davis Schilken at 303-670-9855 to arrange a consultation at one of our two locations in The Denver Tech Center and Golden, Colorado, to learn how we can help you.