< Colorado Inheritance Law FAQ Contents
What Is a Will?
What Is a Colorado Will?
A will is a legal document in which a person, the testator, states his or her wishes for the distribution of property at death. If the person has young children, the will usually also nominatesguardians for them--someone who would raise the children if the parents couldn't. A will also names an executor, also called a personal representative, who is the person who will settle the estate, and, if a probate is necessary, be appointed as the legal representative of the estate until it is distributed to the will's beneficiaries.
A will doens't need a lot of magic words to be valid. But the person making the will must:
- understand what he or she is doing (this is called legal capacity)
- identify himself or herself
- name beneficiaries for his or her property, and
- sign the will in front of witnesses, according to state law.
Some states allow a person to handwrite a will (this is called a holographic will), but it's better to type one out. That way, it's easier to see if someone else has tried to change the will.
Where Are Wills Stored?
If you want to find the will of soemone who has died, where should you look? There's no official place for people to store their wills, and there's no state registry to store your will before you die. Most people store their wills with their other important papers, sometimes in a safe deposit box,sometimes in a fireproof safe or cabinet in their homes, sometimes just in a box with other important papers.
Ideally, you want to find the original, signed will, not a copy. If all you can find is a copy, you can submit that to the probate court and explain to the court that you couldn't locate the original. If no one else comes forward with an original will for that person, and no other evidence can be found that another will was created, the court may accept a copy of a will.
If, after a thorough search, no one can find a will at all, you'll have to conclude that there is no will. In that case, the person's estate will be subject to the state's rules about how inherits when there is no will.
When a person dies and leaves behind a will, whoever has possession of the will is supposed to submit it to the probate court in the county where that person died.This is sometimes called "lodging" the will. Once lodged, the will becomes a public record, to be read by anyone who's interested in what it says.Here's a link to your state's probate courts.
Even though the law requires that a will be submitted to the local probate court, there are really no actual penalties for not doing so, especially if the estate is too small for probate to be required. If an estate does have to go through probate, though, filing the will is the first step in getting that process started.
How to Read a Will
It's not like the movies. Hardly any families have a meeting with a lawyer to read the will aloud. Instead, reading a will is like reading any legal document--take it slow, look up words that you do not know, and focus on what the document actually says, as opposed to what you wish it would say. When you are reading a will, here's what you need to find out:
- Who is named as the executoror personal representative? This is the person who is in charge of settling the estate.
- Who are the beneficiaries? These are the people who inherit the property.
- Is there a survival requirement?Most wills require that beneficiaries must survive the deceased person by a certain period of time, often five or 30 days, before they can inherit.
- Are there any special conditions that need to be met before the estate can be distributed? Does the will require, for example, that the will-maker's son enroll in a college degree program before he can receive his share of the property?
- Was the will properly signed? You need to make sure that the will was properly signed in front of witnesses, meeting the state's requirements.
- Are there any codicils to the will? A codicil is a separate document, signed later, that changes some of the terms of the will.
How to Settle an Estate When There's a Will
If the value of a person's estate is above a certain limit, called a "small estates limit," their estate must go through a probate proceeding before assets can be distributed to the people who inherit the assets. This is true whether or not there is a will.
Probate is a process that takes place in court. The purpose of probate is to make sure that a deceased person's wishes are respected and that their property is distributed as directed by their will. The person named in the will as the executor, or personal representative, is appointed by the court. After that, the executor is in charge of protecting the estate's assets, identifying and valuing them, paying the debts and expenses of the deceased person, and, in the end, distributing the assets as directed by the will.
If a person left a will, but dies with a small estate, as determined by each state,the estate does not need to go through a formal probate proceeding. Instead, the executor or personal representative can file some simple paperwork and then pay the last bills and expenses, identify the property, and distribute it to the beneficiaries. (Each state's process is a little different.)
When a person dies without a will, or if the will cannot be found, then the estate will be distributed to their heirs, as determined by state law. These laws are called intestacy statutes. For example, in most states, if a person dies and leaves behind no spouse but two living children, those children would inherit the estate, in equal shares.
< Colorado Inheritance Law FAQ Contents
What is a Living Trust?
A living trust is a legal document that holds property transferred by someone, called theGrantor, for the benefit of someone, called the beneficiary, that will be managed by someone, called the Trustee. The Grantor, beneficiary, and Trustee of a typical living trust are all the same people because the primary purpose of a living trust is to manage a person's assets for them during their lifetime, and allow them to pass that property to their surviving spouse, or children, without having to go through a court-supervised process, called probate.
During the Grantor's lifetime, the assets held in the living trust, often their house, their investment accounts and their larger bank accounts, can be used for that person's benefit in exactly the same way that the person was able to use those assets before they were placed in the trust. But, at their death, the trust agreement will dictate what happens next, distributing the trust's property as directed by the document.
Because the assets that have been transferred into the trust are legally owned by the trust (and not by the person who contributed those assets), the Grantor's estate will not have to go through probate because it will fall under a state's small estates limit, if their biggest assets are held in the trust and only a few, small assets are held in their individual names. Just having a living trust, though, isn't going to prevent a probate if the Grantor forgot to actually put their biggest assets (house, brokerage accounts, and so on) into the trust. It's entirely possible for someone to create a trust, ignore it for the next thirty years, and die with all of the major assets held in their own names, and not in the name of the trust. In that case, a probate will be required before any of that person's assets can be distributed to their beneficiaries.
For example, if a person whose home, brokerage account, and savings account had been transferred into their living trust, dies, only those assets that they held in their own, individual name would count towards their state's small estates limit for probate. If all that they owned outside of the trust consisted of their car, with a Blue Book value of $3000, a checking account with $ 4,000, and their household possessions, their estate would not be subject to probate and could be distributed to their beneficiaries without a court order and without the cost and delay of probate. However, if that same person never transferred their home, their brokerage account or that savings account into the trust, all of those assets would have to go through probate before they could be transferred to the trust's beneficiaries.
Is a Trust Registered or Stored Somewhere?
After someone dies, the family needs to locate that person's estate planning documents. Much to many peoples' surprise, there's no official state registry for this kind of thing where people send in their important documents before they die. Instead, people keep their Wills and trusts in safe places -- sometimes in a safe deposit box at the bank, sometimes in a fireproof safe or cabinet at home, and sometimes just in a special box or drawer at home.
If you are not certain where such documents are located, you just have to keep looking until you find them. If you can't find them, you may finally conclude that they just don't exist. If that's the case, then the person will have died intestate, which means that state law determines who inherits their property.
If you're not certain whether or not such documents exist, then you've got more of a detective project on your hands. There's no external thing you can find that will tell you for certain that a Will exists--you either find one or you don't. But in the case of a living trust, your clue to the existence of a trust will be account statements or property deeds that show the ownership of the account to be something like this, "Nila Smatherton, as Trustee of the Nila Smatherton Trust." If you find assets that are held by a trust, you'll need to locate the trust document to be able to transfer them. If you do find the trust document, your next step is to read it. If you ultimately cannot find the trust document, you'll need to work with a local estate planning attorney to transfer the assets via a court order. Here's a link to your local probate court.
What to Look For When Reading the Trust
Here's what you need to figure out when reading a trust:
- Who is named to serve as successor Trustee? This is the person with the legal responsibility to distribute the trust's assets as directed by the trust document.
- Who are the trust beneficiaries? These are the people who will receive the trust's assets.
- How are the beneficiaries supposed to receive their assets? Often, trusts will distribute assets to adult beneficiaries "outright and free of trust", which is lawyer-speak for giving those assets directly to them, with no strings attached. Children, or adults with special needs or issues managing money, will often be given assets to be held in trust to a certain age (like 30) or, perhaps, for their entire lifetimes.
- What assets are owned by the trust? As asset has to legally transferred to a trust for that trust to be its legal owner. To determine what the trust owns, you'll be looking for deeds and account statements that show ownership like this, "John Doe, as Trustee of the John Doe Family Trust."
- Was the Trust signed and notarized? An unsigned trust, or one that wasn't properly notarized is not legally valid.
- Are there any Trust Amendments? A trust amendment changes a section of a previously signed trust.
To settle an estate that's held in a living trust, there are a series of steps that the Trustee will need to take. The beneficiaries and heirs will need to be notified of the death of the Grantor; the trust's assets will need to be identified and valued, the decedent's debts and expenses will have to be paid, the trust will need a tax identification number, a trust tax return may need to be filed, and, in the end, the trust's assets will need to be distributed to the beneficiaries.
< Colorado Inheritance Law FAQ Contents
Executor, Trustee: What's the Difference?
An executor is the person either appointed by the court, or nominated in someone's Will, to take care of the deceased person's financial affairs. In some states, this person is called the personal representative.
If there's a probate court proceeding, the court officially appoint someone--usually, the personnamed in the deceased person's sill--as executor. The court gives the executor a document granting authority to administer the estate, which is called letters testamentaryin most states.
If there's no probate proceeding (because the estate is too small to require one), then the person named as executor still takes care of things, but doesn't have official authority from the court. If required, the executor can provide a copy of the deceased person's will and a document stating that there is no probate pending in the state. Click here to read about the small estates procedure in coate.
Here are the sort of things an executor does:
- Secure and organize the deceased person's property, including a house and furnishings.
- Make an inventory of what's in the estate.
- Value the assets in the estate.
- File the deceased person's last tax returns (and any back taxes)
- Pay the deceased person's remaining bills.
- If there's a probate, work with the estate's attorney to give the court the information it requires.
- Ultimately, distribute the estate's property to the beneficiaries or heirs.
A trustee is the manager of the property held in a trust. The successor trustee is the person named in the trust document to take over the job of managing the trust after the person who established it, the grantor, dies or is unable to continue as trustee.
Here are the sort of things a trustee does:
- Identify and gather all of the trust's assets.
- Appraise or otherwise value the trust's assets.
- Notify heirs and beneficiaries as required by state law.
- Pay the trust's bills.
- Get a tax identification number for the trust.
- File the trust's tax returns, if required.
- Ultimately, distribute the assets held in trust to the trust's beneficiaries.
Often, the trustee and the executor are the same person. But that doesn't mean there's no difference in their jobs. In practice, it boils down to this: If an asset is held outside of a trust, in the decedent's individual name, then the executor is in charge of it. If an asset is held in trust, then the trustee's in charge.
For example, if the Kate S. owned a brokerage account and transferred it to the trust before she died, the account's official legal owner would be "Kate S., as Trustee of the S Family Trust." After Kate's death, the successor trustee would be able to continue managing that account after giving the company a copy of Kate's death certificate and a copy of the trust document. But if Kate had never transferred that account into her trust, and it was owned in her name alone, it would be the executor's job to deal with that account, not the trustee's.
< Colorado Inheritance Law FAQ Contents
How to Order Certified Copies of a Death Certificate
After someone dies, certified death certificates become necessary and useful documents. You will need them, for example, to record the deeds necessary to change title to real property, to claim life insurance, to file estate tax returns, and to claim pensions or any other benefit available as a result of that person's death. This makes perfect sense, since the companies holding these assets do not want to distribute them unless they are certain that the decedent has actually died.
The funeral home that prepares a body for burial or cremation will usually order copies, and they'll ask you how many you need. For most estates, 5-10 copies is plenty.
But if you need more as the process of administering a trust or estate goes on, you can order more yourself by contacting the state or county's vital records office. Usually, the county office can provide you with the certificates more quickly than the state's office can. You'll want to contact the office in the county where the person died.
Different states call this office different things; in Texas, it's called the "local registrar"; in California, it's called the County Recorder's offfice. The cost to receive certified copies varies by state, and sometimes, by county. In Texas, the cost is $20 for the first copy and 3$ for each additional copy. In California the cost is $21 per copy. Many states require you to be an authorized individual, usually to a family member, funeral home director, a person authorized to receive a death certificate as a result of a court order, an executor, or an attorney to order certified death certificates, to avoid fraud.
Click here for a link to a website that shows you how to apply to each state's office.
Once you find the proper office, you'll probably need the following information to request a certified copy of death certificate:
Name of deceased
Date of death
City and county of death
< Colorado Inheritance Law FAQ Contents
What's the Difference between Real and Personal Property?
Many states make a distinction betweenpersonalproperty and real propertywhen they set out the rules for which estates are small enough for either an Affidavit procedure or a summary probate procedure. What's the difference?
Personal propertymeans things that people own that are moveable, as in not fixed to the land. Examples are: cash, stocks, bonds, cars, vehicles, clothes, furniture and furnishings.
Real propertymeans things that are land and things affixed to the land. Examples are: houses, and other buildings, as well as the property underneath them and the rights associated with the land, like water, mineral, and other rights.
< Colorado Inheritance Law FAQ Contents
What States Recognize Common Law Marriages?
Some states permit "common law" marriages. These states recognize a legal relationship between two people who lived together as if they were married, and held themselves out to the world as if they were married, but never legally were married under that state's laws. This can be relevant when a person dies without a Will, if their surviving partner wants to inherit as that person's spouse under state law, but doesn't have a marriage license.
Here are the states that recognize common law marriages now, or did in the past and still will honor such marriage if a relationship began before such common law marriages were abolished by state law:
Alabama(recognized by the courts, not expressly allowed by state law)
Colorado (after September 2006)
District of Columbia
Florida (if relationship began beore 1968)
Georgia (if relationship began before 1997)
Idaho (if relationship began before 1996)
Indiana (if relationship began before 1958)
Ohio(if relationship began before 1991)
Oklahoma (recognized by the courts, not expressly allowed by state law)
Pennsylvannia(if relationship began before 2005)
Rhode Island (recognized by the courts, not expressly allowed by state law)
What are the inheritance laws in Colorado? ›
Colorado requires that an individual survive a decedent by at least 120 hours, or five days, in order to become a valid heir under intestate succession law. If this prerequisite is not met, the estate is distributed as if the possible heir had predeceased the decedent, according to Colorado inheritance laws.How is next of kin determined in Colorado? ›
Who is considered next of kin in Colorado? For the purposes of inheritance, the next of kin can be identified through Colorado's laws of intestacy. It may be the surviving spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, grandparents, or even the aunts and uncles of someone who dies.Is inheritance considered community property in Colorado? ›
Property acquired by inheritance or by gift is not considered marital property. (Gifts from one spouse to another during the marriage, however, can be deemed either marital or separate property.)What does the new inheritance law state? ›
In 2022, the Supreme Court ruled that daughters have the right to inherit their parents' self-acquired property and any other property of which they are absolute owners, adding that this rule would apply even in cases where the parents of a daughter died intestate before the codification of the Hindu Succession Act, ...How long does an executor have to settle an estate in Colorado? ›
Length of time for probate to be completed varies in Colorado. The minimum time for formal and informal probate is six months by law. However, it can take much longer for an estate to be ready for distribution, depending on the size, complexity and any issues that may arise.How much can you inherit without paying taxes in Colorado? ›
Even though there is no estate tax in Colorado, you may still owe the federal estate tax. The exemption for that tax is $12.06 million for deaths in 2022 and $12.92 million in 2023. This tax is portable for married couples.How does inheritance work in Colorado? ›
Children inherit everything if there's no surviving spouse. Otherwise, descendants inherit what's left after the surviving spouse inherits their share of your estate.
When a person has died leaving children as their 'Next of Kin' – there is often a misconception that the eldest child has a priority in being the 'Next of Kin' – this is not the case – all children are equally entitled to be 'Next of Kin'.Does a spouse automatically inherit everything in Colorado? ›
In Colorado, if you are married and you die without a will, what your spouse gets depends on whether or not you have living parents or descendants -- children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. If you don't, then your spouse inherits all of your intestate property.How long do you have to be married in Colorado to get half of everything? ›
After 20 years of marriage, the courts will order duration for closer to half of the total length of marriage. After 30 years of marriage, the courts are more likely to award permanent alimony. A judge, however, will have ultimate jurisdiction over all alimony arrangements in Colorado.
Is inheritance automatically excluded from community of property? ›
The only asset that may be excluded from the joint estate is an inheritance.What is the 7 year inheritance rule? ›
The 7 year rule
No tax is due on any gifts you give if you live for 7 years after giving them - unless the gift is part of a trust. This is known as the 7 year rule.
Notwithstanding any rule of Hindu Law or custom to the contrary, no person governed by the Hindu Law, other than a person who is and has been from birth a lunatic or idiot, shall be excluded from inheritance or from any right or share in joint-family property by reason only of any disease, deformity, or physical or ...What are rules of inheritance? ›
The three laws of inheritance proposed by Mendel include: Law of Dominance. Law of Segregation. Law of Independent Assortment.What is the average fee for an executor of an estate in Colorado? ›
Executor fees (Colorado does not have a statute governing the amount of executor compensation, which means that reasonable compensation can be determined by probate court. According to org a reasonable executor fee is about 1.5% of the estate);Does an executor have to show accounting to beneficiaries in Colorado? ›
The short answer is yes, you have to show an accounting unless the heirs or beneficiaries of the estate waive the requirement. And even if they waive it, probate best practice is to show a thorough summary of what was done so you reduce the chance of disputes later on.How long can an executor keep money for? ›
This is because there is a six month time limit under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975, which runs from the date of the grant of probate. If a claim were to be brought, it would be far better that the beneficiaries have not received the money rather than being asked to repay the money.Does the IRS need to know about inheritance? ›
Inheritances are not considered income for federal tax purposes, whether you inherit cash, investments or property. However, any subsequent earnings on the inherited assets are taxable, unless it comes from a tax-free source.Do I have to pay taxes on my inherited money? ›
In California, there is no state-level estate or inheritance tax. If you are a California resident, you do not need to worry about paying an inheritance tax on the money you inherit from a deceased individual. As of 2023, only six states require an inheritance tax on people who inherit money.Is a $50000 inheritance taxable? ›
The Basic Rule: Inheritances Aren't Taxed as Income
It doesn't matter how the property passes to the inheritor. Whether the property passes under the terms of a will or trust, or the inheritor was a designated beneficiary (for example, a payable-on-death bank account), it's not taxable income.
How is inheritance money distributed? ›
Individuals can receive inheritance money in different ways including through a trust and from a will, which can come with restrictions, or as a beneficiary on a bank or retirement account.Does the executor of a will get paid in Colorado? ›
Executor Fees in Colorado
In states that use reasonable compensation to determine executor fees, it means compensation is determined by the probate court. Typically, the probate court will find executor compensation reasonable if it is in line with what people have received in the past as compensation in that area.
Heirs must survive the decedent by at least 120 hours. Decedent's brothers and sisters (and descendants of any pre-deceased brothers and sisters) are the heirs. And If no descendants survive the decedent, surviving parents are also heirs, unless the decedent is survived by a designated beneficiary.What is the order of beneficiaries in a will? ›
This is usually a close relative, in this order of priority: spouse or civil partner; children; parents; brothers or sisters; other relatives (depending on who is entitled to the estate). If any of these people die before the deceased, their children may apply.How can I leave money to my son but not his wife? ›
Set up a trust
One of the easiest ways to shield your assets is to pass them to your child through a trust. The trust can be created today if you want to give money to your child now, or it can be created in your will and go into effect after you are gone.
Do Grandchildren Have Inheritance Rights? Grandchildren do not have automatic inheritance rights except under certain circumstances. In New York, the most common scenario where a grandchild may inherit is when a grandparent passes away without a Will and the grandchild's parent is no longer living.Who is next of kin without a will? ›
Parents, brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews of the intestate person may inherit under the rules of intestacy. This will depend on a number of circumstances: whether there is a surviving married or civil partner. whether there are children, grandchildren or great grandchildren.Who is default next of kin? ›
However, generally speaking, a next of kin is usually understood to be a person's closest relative. The order usually goes: A husband, wife or civil partner. Unmarried partners are sometimes included here, but not always.Is next of kin the eldest sibling? ›
A person's next of kin is typically their spouse or closest living relative. The following hierarchy determines who is the most senior next of kin (in order): spouse or domestic partner; adult son or daughter (eldest surviving takes seniority);When a husband dies what is the wife entitled to in Colorado? ›
When a married person dies, his or her spouse has many rights pursuant to Colorado law, even if the spouse left no will. These rights include the right to be named as personal representative of the estate, certain monetary allowances, the right to certain property and a share of your spouse's estate.
Can my husband get half of my inheritance? ›
The law considers inherited property to be a personal gift to the recipient and a spouse or domestic partner has no claim to it. When couples divorce, the inherited property generally stays with the person who inherited it. But inherited property must retain its character as separate throughout the marriage.Can my husband make a claim on my inheritance? ›
There is a common misconception that after you have divorced your spouse, they cannot make an inheritance claim against your estate while you are alive or after you die. But provided they did not remarry, an ex-spouse may bring an inheritance claim.How many years do you have to be married to get alimony in Colorado? ›
In order to be eligible for spousal maintenance in Colorado, you must meet certain requirements. First, you must be married for at least ten years. Second, you must show that you are unable to support yourself. Lastly, you must show that your spouse is able to support you.What is a common law wife in Colorado? ›
Colorado has recognized common law marriage as legal and binding since 1877 and is 1 of 12 states to do so. A common law marriage is established when the parties mutually consent to be husband and wife. Common law marriage does not require any license, ceremony or documentation to be legal.What is a wife entitled to after 20 years of marriage in Colorado? ›
Alimony for Life
While some states have eliminated lifelong alimony, except in cases of elderly or disabled spouses, that is not the case in Colorado. In marriages lasting longer than 20 years, a spouse can be awarded spousal maintenance for the rest of their life.
Place your possessions into groups of items having approximately equal value, by your judgment. Then draw numbers among children or grandchildren to determine who gets which group or lot of goods. Children having received a group of items are free to trade or sell selected items to anyone else who may want them.How is inheritance divided among heirs? ›
All children inherit equally.
Children who are half siblings are treated as full siblings for the purpose of dividing property and assets. Children receive half or more of the assets when there is a surviving spouse. When there is not a surviving spouse, the children inherit everything equally.
CSS properties such as height , width , border , margin , padding , etc. are not inherited.Who inherits when there is no will in Colorado? ›
If you die without a will in Colorado, your children will receive an "intestate share" of your property. The size of each child's share depends on how many children you have, whether or not you are married, and whether or not your spouse is also their biological parent.Can my husband take half of my inheritance? ›
In most cases, a person who receives an inheritance is under no obligations to share it with his or her spouse. However, there are some instances in which the inheritance must be shared. Primarily, the inheritance must be kept separate from the couple's shared bank accounts.
Can you contest an inheritance if there is no will? ›
You can't contest an intestacy ruling in the same way that you can contest a will. However, if your loved one has died and you believe they would have wanted to leave you an inheritance, you can make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act.How is inheritance divided if no will? ›
If there is no surviving partner, the children of a person who has died without leaving a will inherit the whole estate. This applies however much the estate is worth. If there are two or more children, the estate will be divided equally between them.How do I avoid probate in Colorado? ›
In Colorado, you can make a living trust to avoid probate for virtually any asset you own—real estate, bank accounts, vehicles, and so on. You need to create a trust document (it's similar to a will), naming someone to take over as trustee after your death (called a successor trustee).
- place money or investments in a separate account.
- title assets (land, cars) in only your name.
- maintain detailed and complete records.
- make a written agreement with your partner acknowledging the status of the property.
Inheritances are not considered income for federal tax purposes, whether you inherit cash, investments or property. However, any subsequent earnings on the inherited assets are taxable, unless it comes from a tax-free source.Does a beneficiary have to share with siblings? ›
The law doesn't require estate beneficiaries to share their inheritance with siblings or other family members. This means that if a beneficiary receives the entire estate, then they are legally allowed to keep it all for themselves without having to distribute any of it amongst their siblings.How do you deal with being disinherited? ›
Help them reframe the relationship to put the matter into a more productive perspective. Although you are under no legal obligation to give anything to the disinherited person, this doesn't mean there will be no moral and emotional consequences. If you do your best to act fairly, you will likely feel calmer over time.Are inheritances considered marital property? ›
By law, inheritances aren't marital property; instead it's property that goes to a sole individual. There are some exceptions that you should know about, though. For instance, if you have placed the inheritance into a joint bank account, then you may have created a comingling of your inheritance.Does inheritance always go to spouse? ›
For married couples with children, it is not automatic that the surviving spouse inherits all assets. Only about a third of all states have laws specifying that assets owned by the deceased are automatically inherited by the surviving spouse.