aaronColorado Probate and Colorado Trust Administration

Probate is the legal process by which a decedent’s debts are resolved and assets are distributed to heirs upon death.

Though the probate process may seem simple, it often is not, due to poor estate planning.  So the best attorneys make sure that the draft the client’s estate planning document to ensure for a streamlined probate process.  Often clients try to save money and use “do-it-yourself” type forms, which often just adds to the expense of the probate process.. Whether your loved one’s estate planning was done right or wrong, our probate attorneys are knowledgeable in probate law and are seasoned litigators when necessary.

Our Douglas County probate attorneys regularly assist personal representatives, those entrusted with responsibility of handling a probate administration, to ensure compliance with tax issues, estate valuation, trust and estate administration and assets protection throughout the Denver Front Range area. We also represent claimants against a Colorado estate.

If taken lightly or done improperly, Colorado probate administration can be costly, time-consuming, and lengthy. Often, relatives may contest their share, challenge validity of the will, or challenge the types of debts included within the estate.  Our Douglas County probate attorneys can confidently walk you through those crucial first steps, assist you with establishing the personal personal representative, help you gather, value and distribute the assets of the estate, and successfully complete the final accounting.  We will also help you anticipate tax pitfalls and handle special issues, such as probating insolvent/bankrupt estates and estates that include a business.  Gear up with a probate lawyer that has the foundational knowledge you need to ensure a smooth transition from start to finish.

Our Castle Rock probate attorneys have the expertise to make this difficult time less stressful and to resolve the disputes involved with contested wills efficiently.  Our Colorado probate attorneys assist clients in going through the full gambit of probation options:

  1. Small Estate – What it is and How to File
  2. Regular Estate
  3. The Estate Timetable – What We Need to Do
  4. Proving the Will
  5. Challenging the Will
  1. Duties of the Personal Representative
  2. Misconduct and/or Removal
  3. Compensation Guidelines
  4. Special Administration Issues
  1. Statutory Requirements and How They Affect Your Case
  2. Notice to Creditors, Beneficiaries and State Agencies – What is Required
  3. Collecting, Maintaining and Managing Assets whether they are personal property, real property, gain on assets, income, rents or other receivables
  4. Inventory Problems, including how the counsel the personal representative as to duties, responsibilities, and possible liability,
  1. How to Respond to Creditors’ Claims
  2. Insolvency
  3. Managing the Estate Cash Responsibly, determining the appropriateness of expenditures
  4. Disclaimers
  5. Partial Distributions, dealing with objections to the final accounting by beneficiaries or heirs
  6. Counseling on releasing the surety bond on the personal representative

    1. Performing Competent Legal Services
    2. Identifying the Client
    3. Avoiding Conflicts of Interest
    4. Distinguishing Between Privileged and Non-Privileged Communication
    5. Establishing Reasonable Attorneys’ Fees

    1. Spousal Property Petition
    2. Family Allowance and Homestead Allowance
    3. Liability for Debts, Taxes, Expenses and Fees
    4. Satisfying the Spousal Share – Pro Rata versus Non Pro Rata Division
    5. Step-by-Step Procedure

    1. Explanation of Rules of Probate Procedure
    2. Declaratory Judgment
    3. How to Conduct Discovery
    4. What to Do on Appeal
    1. Tax Returns – What Needs to be Filed and When
    2. Final Accounting
    3. Distribution of Estate to Beneficiaries
    4. Discharge of Fiduciary

Several years ago, the Colorado Bar Association put out a small pamphlet on “What is probate?,” which we have attempted to update below.  As the laws are continually changing in this area, please take this for informational purposes only and consult with an experienced probate attorney for advice on you legal matter before making any decisions on how to proceed.

Probate is the legal process that is used to transfer title of property from the decedent to his or her devisees (named in the will) or heirs (if there is not a will). All wills and intestate estates must be probated, but the degrees of court involvement and complexity range from simple and inexpensive to complicated and costly.

In Colorado, there are three types of probates for both wills and intestate estates-one for small estates (under $60,000 and no real property, as of the time of writing), one for uncontested estates (“informal”), and one for contested estates and invalid or questionable wills (“formal”). Both informal and formal probates must be open with the court for at least six months, but full administration of the estate may take much longer.

Whether or not you die having a will, if you have $60,000 or less (at the time of writing) and no real property, your devisees or heirs may collect your assets by using an affidavit and not have to involve the court. This procedure requires the devisee or heir colleting the property to swear they are entitled to it and will distribute it to any other entitled devisees or heirs.

The second type of probate, the informal process, is generally allowed when there is a valid will or clear intestacy, no contests are expected, and there is a clearly qualified personal representative ready to be appointed. The court has a limited role in the administration, but ensures that the directions in the will or intestacy law are followed.

A formal probate is required for several reasons, including when a will is contested, unclear, invalid, or when there are apparent or actual significant challenges (i.e., identifying heirs, property title disputes) in administration. The court may require that the personal representative get its approval for every transaction or may allow the personal representative to administer the estate unsupervised.
Will my estate have to go through probate?

All wills and intestate estates must be probated. The probate process has been greatly simplified by the Uniform Probate Code, and more than 90% of probates in Colorado are not court supervised. In addition, the simplified procedure options usually require much less attorney time and the personal representative is able to do most of the routine estate administration tasks unassisted, such as paying bills and selling or distributing personal possessions.

Depending on how your assets are owned, your estate may not have to go through the probate process because your will may not control the distribution of some or all of your assets. There are certain types of assets that are not governed or distributed per the terms of a will. Only property that was owned by you in your individual name (and that does not have a beneficiary designation) is controlled by the will. Assets that are owned in joint tenancy, such as real property or a bank account, or assets that have a beneficiary designation like a life insurance policy or IRA, pass to the beneficiaries by operation of a contract, and are not subject to the provisions in the will or the probate process.

*Note: Colorado law requires that a decedent’s will be filed (lodged) with the District Court in which the decedent was domiciled within ten days of the decedent’s passing, even if no probate administration is expected.

How do probate assets get passed to the heirs?

As described above, “probate assets” are generally administered in one of three ways: 1) through the use of an affidavit if the total probate estate assets are less than $60,000 and there is not any real property; 2) through a informal probate procedure; or 3) through a formal probate procedure.

If using a an Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property, the affiant goes to the institution or individual holding the decedent’s asset, presents the affidavit, and collects the property. The affiant then distributes the property to those entitled to it, whether per the terms of the decedent’s will or the intestacy laws.

In an informal and formal probate procedure, the court appoints a personal representative or special administrator who is given the authority to essentially step into the decedent’s shoes and wrap up their business affairs and distribute their property. The personal representative may be supervised by the court or conduct the administration without supervision, but is considered a fiduciary for purposes of dealing with the decedent’s property.

Colorado requires that a personal representative notify (by publication in a local newspaper or by mail) any possible and known creditors of the decedent, and to pay legitimate claims. During the creditors’ period, the personal representative will likely deal with valuing, consolidating, and/or liquidating the estate’s assets. After the creditors’ period is over, the personal representative may make distributions to creditors, heirs, and/or beneficiaries. An estate can close once all of the assets are transferred out of the decedent’s name, all legitimate claims are satisfied, all beneficiary interests are satisfied, and applicable tax returns are filed and paid.

Who’s in charge of administering an estate?

The court will appoint a personal representative (formerly called an “executor”) and issue letters, or a document that evidences the personal representative’s authority to administer a decedent’s estate. The personal representative has many duties, rights, and responsibilities, including the ability to open and maintain an estate bank account; to sell, transfer, or encumber real property; to sell and/or transfer assets; to consolidate bank accounts; and to deal with creditors.

A personal representative has a fiduciary duty to the estate, and has specific duties, including: (1) to deal with the interests of the creditors and beneficiaries impartially; (2) to administer the estate solely with regard to the interest of the creditors and beneficiaries (as opposed to the personal representative’s own interests); (3) the duty of undivided loyalty; and (4) to act prudently.

Other responsibilities of a personal representative include creating an estate inventory of all of the decedent’s assets (real and personal) that includes applicable titling and date-of-death values, managing the estate assets until the court approves the closing of the estate, keep accurate records of the estate’s transactions, and making distributions to creditors, heirs, and/or beneficiaries.

A Word about Fees

Even the most well-planned estates and well-written wills have costs associated with administration, including court fees, attorney fees, and the payment of the decedent’s final expenses and legitimate debts. Most attorneys charge an hourly fee, and the rate depends on several factors, such as the attorney’s expertise and experience, the novelty and difficulty of the case, the size of the estate and whether it will be contested, and costs involved.

This pamphlet’s purpose was to inform citizens of their legal rights and obligations and to provide information regarding the legal profession and how it may best serve the community. Changes may have occurred in the law since the time of publication and our updating of the same. Before relying on this information, consult an attorney about your individual case.

Call today to discuss how we can assist you with your Colorado probate matter with one of our knowledgeable and experienced Douglas County probate attorneys at 303-688-3045!