The state of Colorado does not require that you use a lawyer when going through probate, the legal process for administering an estate after a person has died. And, if the estate is small and you have clear instructions you may not need any legal advice. But before you decide to go it on your own, ask yourself these four questions.
1. Is there a will?
A will stands in favor of you handling some parts of probate by yourself. In general, if there is a valid will and it’s clear who will inherit, you’ve won half the battle. On the other hand, if there’s no will, an invalid will, or a contested will, you will likely need to through formal probate, a court process which requires much more court supervision. And you’ll likely need legal help.
2. How big is the estate?
Even if your loved one left a written will and made it clear who is to get what, you might still want a lawyer if the estate is large and complex. Some estates include a business, complicated taxes and out-of-state property. For larger, complicated estates it may behoove you to use a lawyer to fairly dispose of those assets.
On the other hand, if the estate is valued at less than $60,000 and includes no real estate or land, settling affairs should take much less time. In that case, you don’t have to go through all the steps of probate and can simply file a Collection of Personal Property by Affidavit form in order to transfer the personal property.
3. Will the beneficiaries dispute each other’s claims?
If there are a large number of beneficiaries; beneficiaries who don’t get along; large sums left to minors; or debts that exceed assets, there’s a chance the will may be disputed. In this case, you don’t want to find yourself in the middle. Consider working with, or alongside, an experienced probate attorney.
4. Do I have the time?
Probate can take a minimum of 6 months and longer than a year. As personal representative, you must file a series of court documents at specified dates. While probating an estate is not a full-time job, you must be diligent and detail-oriented in inventorying assets and following up with creditors. If you don’t have the time and patience, get outside help.
Probate can be complex. For more information, get Bradford’s helpful booklet, “Guide to Probate in Colorado.” Bradford also has all the forms needed to probate and estate, in printed form or downloaded from our website.