What is Probate and How Does Probate Work in Colorado?

    Probate is the legal process by which a court oversees the distribution of a decedent’s assets and property to their beneficiaries and heirs. The purpose of probate is to ensure the decedent’s assets and property are distributed according to their wishes or state law, depending on the validity and existence of a Last Will & Testament. The probate process also provides an avenue for creditors and beneficiaries to make claims against the estate.

    How Does Probate Work in Colorado?

    Before the probate process begins, each of the decedent’s assets should be identified as a probate or non-probate asset. A probate asset is a type of asset that must go through the probate process in order for the asset to be distributed to the rightful beneficiaries and heirs. Probate assets are typically owned solely by the decedent at the time of death, and do not have a clear mechanism for transferring ownership. Common examples of probate assets include real estate, including mineral interests, business interests, personal property and bank accounts. A common example of a probate asset is a real estate interest that was owned solely by the decedent at the time of their death. In that case, the ownership transfer of the real estate to the beneficiaries and heirs cannot happen without opening probate and receiving the necessary paperwork from the probate court to complete the real estate transfer. Non-probate assets are assets that are not subject to the probate process and pass directly to the designated beneficiary or joint owner upon death of the decedent. Examples of non-probate assets often include assets held in trust, life insurance policies and retirement accounts that have listed designated beneficiaries. In addition, assets that are held jointly with the right of survivorship are non-probate assets. The benefit of non-probate assets is the asset passes directly to the designated beneficiary, or a joint tenant survivor, at the death of the decedent without having to engage in the probate process. The transfer of non-probate assets does not involve the delays, legal challenges or expenses compared to a probate asset, saving the beneficiaries time and money in collecting a decedent’s assets. If there’s confusion regarding the classification of an estate asset, a licensed Colorado probate attorney can help in determining the correct estate asset classification.

    What Type of Estate Doesn’t Require Probate in Colorado?

    After identifying the decedent’s assets as probate or non-probate assets, it’s important to determine the value of the decedent’s probate assets. In the situation where the probate assets of a decedent do not contain real property interests and the value of the decedent’s personal property is less than $80,000 (as of 2023), it could be possible for the estate to qualify for a small estate probate. In a small estate probate, the decedent’s assets can be distributed by obtaining a small estate affidavit, which allows collection of an asset by the beneficiaries without having to engage in the probate process. A small estate probate eliminates much of the cost of the probate process, allowing beneficiaries to collect the decedent’s assets at a much lower time and money cost than engaging in the probate process.

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