What is Probate?
Probate in Colorado is a court process whereby you settle a deceased person’s financial affairs. When someone passes, whether they leave a Will or not, chances are their surviving loved ones will need to go through the probate process in order to re-title or distribute their assets to their heirs.
There are some exceptions. For instance, if the person didn’t own any real estate and had less than approximately $66,000 (this number fluctuates) in assets, then there are other options. Also, if everything the person owned was held by or titled to a trust, then probate would not be necessary. For everyone else, here is a quick look at the process:
Open Probate: “‘opening” probate means filling out some specific forms and filing them with the appropriate court. As part of this process, you’ll need to nominate a personal representative or “PR” (sometimes called an “executor”). There are laws outlining priorities for who becomes the PR, starting with the person nominated in a valid Will, if there is a Will.
Take Inventory & Maintain the Estate: next, the PR will need to do some detective work. They must make sure they understand what all the deceased person owned. This means checking for personal belongings, bank accounts, vehicles, storage facilities, etc. If there is anything that needs maintaining, like a home or vehicle, they will need to take good care of those assets so as not to let their values decrease. They can get reimbursed from the estate for maintenance costs or they can use the estate’s liquid assets to help with this.
Notify Creditors: once probate is opened, the PR must let potential creditors know about it. This is done by publishing a specific notice in a major newspaper in the correct jurisdiction once a week for three consecutive weeks. Potential creditors get at least four months to make claims, and some claims can be brought up to a year after the deceased person has passed.
Settle the Estate: once the assets are all accounted for and safe, and the deadline for claims has passed, the PR can pay off debts and distribute assets. They will need to follow a specific order of priority for paying debts and will either follow the Will, if there is one, or the laws of intestacy for distributing assets to the rightful heirs.
Close Probate: once all the debts are paid and property distributed to the rightful heirs, the PR will file closing documents with the court and receive a final order discharging them from their duties. The probate process is then complete.
If you or a loved one are looking at going through the probate process, we are happy to help guide you through. Please feel free to contact us. You may also find it helpful to review the court’s self-help manuals and resources found here: https://www.courts.state.co.us/Self_Help/estate/.