In a previous blog post, we discussed the three types of Colorado probate estates: small estates, informal probate, and formal probate. But what are the actual steps one takes to probate a decedent’s estate in the state of Colorado? Family members are often unsure of where to start, and, when they’re grieving, taking care of complex or confusing legal matters is the last thing they feel like doing. This article offers guidance on how to get started.
The probate process can be complex, and addressing every possible issue or contingency is outside the scope of any blog post. However, having a general road map of the process can be very helpful. Here are some of the things you should do and expect when probating or administering a loved one’s estate.
1. If there is a will, lodge it with the Probate Court immediately.
No matter what probate process you expect, Colorado law requires that a decedent’s will be lodged (filed) with the Denver probate court, or the district court in which the decedent lived, within ten days after the decedent’s death. This is true even if no estate administration is expected. If you have the will and intentionally fail to lodge it with the court you could be held in contempt of court or even held liable for any damages that arose from the delay.
2. File the necessary forms to open a probate case.
Lodging the decedent’s will with the Denver probate court, or the district court in another county, is not sufficient to open a probate case; Colorado has specific pleadings which must be filed. Pleadings to initiate probate may be filed with the probate court as soon as six days, and as late as three years, after the decedent’s death. These pleadings may include an Application for Informal Probate of Will and Informal Appointment of Personal Representative. If you are unsure whether an informal or formal probate process is called for, contact an experienced Colorado probate attorney.
3. The Probate Court appoints the personal representative.
The probate court appoints a personal representative to administer the estate. The Last Will and Testament of the deceased person specifies who is to act as personal representative, so the court will appoint that person as personal representative if they are able and willing to serve. If there is no will, the probate court will follow the statutory priorities and will typically appoint a close relative. For estates without a Last Will and Testament, the personal representative is called the Administrator of the estate. The personal representative must promptly notify all heirs that the estate has been opened with the probate court and must also identify and notify potential creditors of the estate. The degree of probate court oversight over the personal representative’s actions will depend on whether probate is formal or informal.
4. Identify, gather, and inventory estate property.
The personal representative is responsible for identifying all assets of the decedent and preparing an inventory that must be provided to entitled parties upon request. Property includes personal property like vehicles and furniture, bank and brokerage accounts, but also things like accounts payable to the deceased and outstanding paychecks. In some cases, it may be necessary to have property appraised or otherwise valued.
5. Pay valid creditors of the estate.
The personal representative is responsible for notifying creditors of the estate that the estate has been opened. This is done by repeated publication of a notice in a daily or weekly newspaper in the county where the estate is being administered. Creditors then have a limited period of time in which to present their claims to the personal representative. If they fail to do so, their claims will be barred and they cannot receive payment. Claims are to be paid in accordance with their statutory priority.
6. Distribute remaining property to heirs and close estate.
After all estate property has been located and valued and all creditors’ claims have been satisfied, whatever estate assets remain can be distributed to heirs. If the deceased had a Last Will and Testament, that document dictates the distribution; if not, distribution takes place according to Colorado intestacy law. In an informal probate administration, the personal representative files a statement that he or she has distributed all of the assets of the estate. If no action is taken against the personal representative (such as by an heir who alleges mishandling of the estate) the personal representative is released from appointment one year later.
Golden Colorado Probate Attorneys
This article is intended to give only a general outline of the probate process; while these steps occur in all estates, all estates differ. The probate process is often significantly more complex than this article may make it appear, and the guidance of an experienced Colorado probate attorney can be invaluable.
If you are faced with the need to probate a Colorado estate and are not sure of your next steps, Davis Schilken, PC can help. Contact us at 303-670-9855 to arrange a consultation at one of our two locations in The Denver Tech Center and Golden, Colorado. We look forward to working with you.