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What Happens If You Die Without A Will?

What happens to your estate after death depends entirely on if you die with or without a will. The easiest way to ensure your estate is distributed according to your wishes is by drafting a will, but otherwise, there are principles in place to tie up your affairs.

Below, we look at commonly asked questions around intestate succession in the state of Colorado, but for advice that’s tailored to your unique circumstances, contact Patterson Weaver Law, LLC now.

What Is Intestate Succession in Colorado?

Intestate succession rules are essentially the rules for how we distribute an estate when you don't have a will. The rules only apply to assets that would normally be distributed through a will, i.e. assets that you hold in your own name. There are some exceptions which we consider below.

Note that any dollar amounts listed below vary each year — you can view the most up-to-date figures here.

Who Administers the Estate When No Will Exists?

If there's a surviving spouse, they're typically named the deceased's personal representative. If there's no surviving spouse, any surviving heir aged 21 and over can serve.

If there's no surviving heir over 21, someone else must serve in their place.

So Who Gets What?

The rules here around spousal and descendant inheritance can get a little complicated, but we'll keep them as simple as possible.

It's worth noting at this stage, however, that if you die with no living spouse or descendants, your living parents will inherit the estate. If you only leave siblings behind, they inherit your estate.

The Spouse's Share in Colorado

If there's a surviving spouse but no descendants, or the only children are the deceased's and the spouse's joint children, the spouse gets everything.

If there is a spouse as well as living parents, the spouse receives the first $300,000 of the estate and 75% of the balance, with the remaining 25% going to the parents.

If the surviving spouse also has descendants from another relationship, the spouse inherits $150,000 and 50% of the balance.

Children's Shares in Colorado

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

Important Facts that You Must Know About Intestate Succession

Now that we're clear on how intestate succession and estate planning work in principle, here are a few other key points you should be aware of.

Not All Property of a Decedent will Be Subject to Intestate Succession

Property that's already assigned to a beneficiary isn't subject to intestate succession rules.

Such property includes:

  • Life insurance proceeds
  • Retirement accounts
  • IRAs
  • Assets held in joint tenancy or trust
  • Transfer-on-death or payable-on-death accounts and property

The Spouse's Share will Depend on Whether there Are Surviving Children

If there is both a surviving spouse and children from that marriage, or no children at all, the spouse inherits the entire estate.

If, on the other hand, the deceased left behind children from a prior relationship, the spouse only gets the first $150,000 + 50% of the remaining balance. The surviving children from the previous relationship get the rest.

Survivorship Periods Have to Be Fulfilled or Met

In simple terms, you can't inherit the deceased's assets unless you've survived them for at least 120 hours (5 days).

For example, if person A dies, person B must wait at least 5 days before inheriting the assets. If person B dies, say, 121 hours after person A, person B's estate includes their rightful portion of person A's. If they died a few hours earlier, this wouldn't be the case.

Immigration Status Will Not Affect People's Inheritance Rights Under Colorado Intestacy Laws

It doesn't matter whether someone is a documented or undocumented immigrant — under Colorado intestacy laws, they're entitled to inherit property.

What Does An Intestate Probate Look Like?

Every estate in Colorado, intestate or otherwise, goes through probate — it's essentially the legal process by which assets transfer to the deceased's heirs or devisees. In Colorado, there are three types of intestate probate. Which probate procedure applies depends entirely on the size and complexity of the estate.

The three options are:

  • Small estates: For estates worth less than $50,000, your heirs can use an affidavit to collect the assets due to them. There's no need for a formal court procedure.
  • Informal and uncontested estates: If it's unlikely that the heirs will contest the estate, the court plays a passive supervisory role to ensure that the deceased's representative distributes the estate properly.
  • Contested estates: This is the most complex probate procedure. It's typically reserved for estates where there's a dispute between heirs or there's a contested will. The court will closely supervise how assets are distributed by the deceased's representative.

Uncontested and contested probate can take 6 months or more to complete.

Does Colorado Have an Inheritance Tax or Estate Tax?

No, but that doesn't mean that there's no tax payable.

Someone should file at least one of these returns upon the individual's death:

  • Federal estate tax return: Only payable if the estate's prior taxable gift value and gross asset value exceeds $11.4 million. It's typically due no later than 9 months after the individual's death.
  • Federal trust or estate income tax return: This is due on or by April 15 of the year after the person's death.
  • The final federal and state income tax returns for the individual: You should pay this on or by April 15 of the year following the individual's death.

Contact Patterson Weaver Law, LLC for Any Questions About Intestate Succession in Colorado

We have provided an overview of intestate succession in the state of Colorado, but since every estate is different, the content of this article should not be construed as legal advice. It should only be construed as guidance.

For more information about intestate succession and how it may affect your estate's distribution after your death, and for all other estate planning and succession questions, call our intestate succession lawyer in Colorado Springs at (719) 215-8049 today.

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