How to Navigate Probate Without Being Scared?

Learning about Probate and how to navigate probate - Red rose on black granite tombstone outdoors. Funeral ceremony

Probate is one of the most misunderstood areas of law and it may be scary to navigate probate.  TV pundits have made it sound scary and overwhelming, and that you should avoid it at all costs.  That is true in states like California, New York, and others.  Fortunately, Colorado is one of the most progressive states in the nation when it comes to making the probate process straightforward and less bureaucratic. 

What is Probate and How Do I Navigate Probate? 

The first question is what is probate anyway?  This is the legal process to handle the last affairs of someone has died.  Sometimes you need to file with the court to get permission to handle the estate.  Other times you may not.  Colorado has many ways of handling an estate:

  • If the estate is valued under $80,000 (in 2023, it increases every year) then it could qualify for a small estate affidavit to close everything.  That does not require any court appearance.  
  • If the estate is over $80,000 (in 2023), then it needs someone appointed to gather all the assets, pay the debts, and then distribute (pass out) the money.  This person is called the personal representative (PR) in Colorado.  You have probably also heard this role called an executor. 
  • An estate may be valued over $80,000 but does not need probate because most of the assets are non-probate transfers.  Learn more about probate vs non-probate transfers HERE.
  • Not sure if you need to file for probate?  A consultation with our dedicated team of lawyers and paralegals can help ease your mind and give you a path forward.

How is Colorado Probate different?

                In Colorado, our probate process is mostly outside of the courts.  If you do need to file a probate case, most of the time you can expect that you will never have to go to the courthouse or see a judge. 

                In fact, good lawyers in Colorado will generally recommend that you not have a trust and instead go through probate (unless you have special circumstances).  That is surprising to many people, since the talking heads on TV preach about the importance of trusts.  Since Colorado does not have an estate tax, and our probate system is straightforward, you probably don’t need a trust.

                Other states, like New York and California (where all those talking heads are based), have complicated probate systems.  They require that the parties show up in front of the judge for permission to do anything.  It requires a long waiting period, and then delays trying to get a date scheduled with the Court.  There are oppressive rules about what a PR can and cannot do.  This is why a trust is often advisable there.

                However, in Colorado we decided to trust our PRs to do the right thing unless someone brings a concern to the judge.  There are required steps of probate to ensure that all the heirs know what is going on, what the assets are, and how they were spent and distributed.  If no one has a problem with what the PR is doing, then the whole case will be handled administratively.  This means that you prepare and file the paperwork for approval without court intervention.

                If someone does have a concern about the estate, or the judge has a concern, then the matter can be brought to court.  Often only one hearing is required to settle a dispute about a single issue.  Sometimes it doesn’t require a hearing at all, just filing motions that the judge will rule on.  This process can be confusing and overwhelming.  The courts expect you to be able to file and argue as if you were a lawyer who understands all the rules.  That can be intimidating (including for lawyers who do not practice probate).  If that is your situation, then contact us for a consultation today to give you peace of mind.

                The vast majority of probate estates are opened and closed with no court intervention.  However, that means that there is a lot for the personal representative to do on the back end.  Learn more from our posts:

  • What Should I Do After Someone Dies?
  • What is Probate?
  • Probate vs Non-Probate Assets
  • What is Probate Inventory and Accounting?
  • Being a personal representative (aka executor) feels like a part-time job. Can I get paid?
  • Probate Timeline
  • Who Pays The Probate Attorney?

We understand how overwhelming this can be.  You don’t need to do this alone.  Contact us today for a consultation with our dedicated and caring team of attorneys and paralegals.

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