When a loved one passes way, the legal process can seem overwhelming and unfamiliar. We are here to help you during a difficult time and make the process as smooth as possible.
When you call our office after a loved one passes, we generally need to know three things about what they owned when they passed away:
- Did they own any assets jointly with a surviving joint owner?
- Did they own any assets with a living beneficiary named?
- Did they leave a will or trust?
We also go over the deceased loved one’s family situation and a few other specifics. We normally can offer an overview of the next steps once this basic information is gathered.
Unless the deceased loved one had a living trust and all assets were funded to the trust (we go over what this means when we talk with you), in most cases you will need to go through the Colorado probate court to gain access to the deceased person’s assets and administer their estate.
The probate process begins by filing various legal documents that give the court the information it needs to determine whether probate can be informal or formal. Informal probate involves less court oversight and is appropriate in most cases when family members are not disputing over an estate and the deceased person’s last will (if any) was properly executed and witnessed. Formal probate involves more court oversight and is appropriate when family members are disputing over an estate or the deceased person’s last will (if any) did not meet Colorado law guidelines on proper execution, such as a missing notary stamp or lack of witnesses. A handwritten will always goes through formal probate.
In researching probate, you might also run across the words “testate” and “intestate.” Someone dies “testate” when he or she leaves a will, while someone dies “intestate” when he or she does not leave a will. Whether someone passes away testate or intestate does not determine whether probate will be formal or informal but it does change what information must be gathered and provided to the court.
Once the right information is gathered and provided to the court, the court will issue “Letters” which are the gateway for the Personal Representative (a modern word for Executor) to access the deceased person’s assets and speak to creditors on the deceased person’s behalf.
All family members and everyone named in a will are entitled to notice of all court proceedings, even if disinherited in the will.
Other steps in the process include giving notice to creditors, publishing legal notice in the local newspaper, preparing an inventory of assets, accounting for the distribution of all assets, and potentially appearing in court for a judgment that all steps have been properly completed.
Once all debts are paid, the remaining assets are distributed according to the deceased person’s will, or according to state statute if he or she did not leave a will.
When a deceased person leaves a surviving spouse who is not the parent of surviving children, then the surviving children are entitled to a portion of the estate in the absence of a will. In addition, half-siblings count as full siblings for purposes of inheritance in the absence of a will. During the probate process, we help you determine who the legal heirs are and in what percentages.
We know this process may seem overwhelming and mysterious. Having helped a number of families navigate the probate process, we want to make your experience as smooth as possible. Please click here for an overview of your probate options. We look forward to meeting and helping you.
If you would like us to contact you regarding your probate needs, please fill in the form below.