A will is a simple estate planning tool that can be created in just a few hours, but many people still die without a will. For some, it was because they thought they were young and invincible and didn't have to plan for their death. For others, they simply felt that because they didn't have much property, it wasn't worth creating a will. No matter what your situation was, dying without a will can create a giant mess for your family.
It's pretty common knowledge that a will specifies who should receive what property, but do you understand how the process of executing a will actually works? When a person dies, their family must enter into a court process called probate. The probate process allows the court to check that the will was legally valid, allows family members or other beneficiaries the opportunity to present a different will if an original will was replaced, and allows other legal challenges to be raised. If there are no challenges or once any challenges are resolved, the court will distribute the deceased's assets as they instructed in the will minus a small fee for the probate process.
When a person dies without a will, their family must still go through the probate process to legally receive ownership of their property, but now, the court doesn't know how that person wanted their property to be distributed. Even if the family has other evidence of the deceased's wishes, such as a signed letter, the court can only follow a valid will. The legal formalities required to create a will were designed to prevent frauds and forgeries, so the courts won't allow the requirements to be bypassed.
When it comes time to divide the property, the court will follow Colorado's intestate laws (intestate means without a will). These laws grant a share of the estate to family members based upon how closely they were related. A spouse generally receives a little more than half of the estate, and children receive the remainder (or share the entire estate if there was no spouse). If a child predeceases a parent, that child's children divide the child's share. If a deceased had no children, their children's share goes instead to the deceased's parents and then siblings. If the court can't find any living relatives and the deceased left no will granting their property to charities or non-relatives, the property will belong to the state.
Even if you've reviewed Colorado's intestacy laws and are perfectly happy with how they would divide your property, you should still create a will. Dying intestate means the probate process will be delayed and your family will incur additional costs. If you die intestate, the court will need to come up with an independent valuation of all of your property. In order to properly divide your assets, it will usually need to sell off non-liquid assets such as real property and family heirlooms. The costs of the accounting and any needed sales will be deducted from your estate and lower the pot that your family will share, and the time to complete all of these tasks can stretch out into months.
To ensure that your family will be able to quickly settle your estate without any unnecessary expenditures, contact Miller & Law, P.C., to have an experienced attorney create a will for you.