What happens during probate and how long does it take?
What Is Probate?
Probate is the legal process during which an appropriate court administers the deceased's assets to their heirs (recipients named by law) or other beneficiaries (recipients named in estate planning documents, such as wills and trusts).
Probate encompasses a process where:
• A will's validity is proven
• The deceased's assets are collected and accounted for
• Debts and taxes are paid, and
• Remaining probate estate assets are distributed
Types Of Probate In Colorado
Colorado probate proceedings fall into one of three categories:
SMALL ESTATE - Estates with personal property less than $50,000, and with no real property, are processed through small estate probate. Heirs and beneficiaries may collect the deceased's assets by using an affidavit and do not have to open a probate action through the court. This procedure requires the heirs or beneficiaries collecting the assets to swear they are entitled to it and will distribute it to any other entitled persons.
INFORMAL PROBATE - Estates with a valid will or clear intestacy (i.e., no will, but a surviving spouse or child), no contests are expected, and that have a qualified personal representative ready to be appointed will go through informal probate proceedings. Forms are filed and approved by the court, but there is no court supervision over the distribution of the estate.
FORMAL PROBATE - If a will is invalid, contested or unclear, or if there are apparent or actual significant challenges (i.e., identifying heirs, property title disputes) in administration, the estate will proceed through formal probate. During a formal probate proceeding, a judge must approve actions taken by the personal representative such as distributing assets or selling real estate. These are most common when there are disputes over the will.
How Long Does Probate Take?
In Colorado, there is no minimum time limit for a small estate. So, depending on the amount and type of assets, and the number and location of heirs, the administration of a small estate can take as little as several weeks. If the decedent owned real property, or if the estate is worth over $50,000, it will go through either informal (uncontested) or formal (contested) probate. During formal or informal probate proceedings, debtors have six months to collect from an estate - so proceedings will last at least six months. Most Colorado probate proceedings last 9-24 months.
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