Probate Court in Colorado—Do I Need an Attorney?
After a person dies, the question of what to do with their property, assets, and personal belongings eventually arises, but many people don’t know where to begin with this task. The process for administering someone’s estate after their death—also known as probate—varies in complexity depending on how prepared the individual was before their death, how large their estate was, and whether there are any complications with the will (if present).
In this article, we describe the different forms of probate proceedings in Colorado as well as when you should consider hiring an attorney to help with the process.
Probate Court in Colorado
Overall, the purpose of probate is to determine whether a decedent has a will, ensure the will is complete and valid, notify relevant individuals, pay any creditors, file taxes, and distribute the decedent’s remaining estate in accordance with their wishes.
In the 1970s, Colorado and 15 other states adopted what is known as the Uniform Probate Code (UPC), which greatly simplifies the probate process. Under the UPC, there are three probate situations:
- Small estates: In Colorado, if a decedent did not hold any real estate and their personal property is worth less than $64,000, they have what is called a “small estate,” which does not require probate proceedings. In this case, the decedent’s heirs can collect the remaining property after obtaining a small estate affidavit and then distribute the estate based on the decedent’s will or Colorado intestacy laws. While the court is available to help resolve any disputes that may arise with small estates, they generally do not intervene.
- Informal probate: Informal probate is allowed when the decedent has a valid will, no one is expected to contest the will, and a competent representative is available to handle all the probate tasks outlined above. Again, the court plays a limited role in this process but does ensure the appointed representative adheres to the will.
- Formal probate: Formal probate is necessary when there is no will (i.e., dying intestate) or when a decedent’s will is contested, invalid for any reason, unclear, or has some other significant problem preventing efficient administration. In these cases, a judge oversees the decedent’s estate, and court hearings are held to determine how the representative should distribute the decedent’s property and belongings. In rare situations, formal supervised probate is necessary, in which case a judge must approve every action the representative takes.
Do I Need an Attorney for Probate?
For small estates and informal probate, most individuals can handle the entire process themselves without needing much help from an attorney as long as they feel comfortable taking on the many tasks associated with distributing an estate. However, even with these less intense probate processes, individuals should consult an attorney when they have questions about the contents of a will, the probate process itself, or any other issue that could affect efficient distribution.
Due to the increased complexity and higher risks, individuals going through the formal probate process should hire an attorney to help navigate court proceedings and ensure their rights as a representative or heir are upheld. This is especially important when a decedent’s will is being contested and/or when the process is predicted to get messy (e.g., because of family conflicts).
It’s also important to note that probate and estate distribution can be time consuming and emotionally draining, especially when someone has just lost a loved one. As such, if the process ever becomes too difficult to bear, consulting an attorney is advisable. At the very least, an attorney can provide helpful guidance to ease some of the burden, but they can also take on more responsibilities—even taking over the whole process—when necessary.