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Law Offices of Ronald W. Rutz
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May 9, 2002: Probate in Colorado vs. Other States

Q: I know that you have written about this before, but why should I believe that probate in Colorado is easier than other states?

A: In general, people want to avoid "probates" for many reasons: an attorney must be hired; he or she charges a percentage of the Estate; probates are very expensive; assets are tied up until the estate is settled; it is so much easier to settle a trust as opposed to an estate because everything has already been done for them; family information must be disclosed through things like inventories or reports; it takes several years to complete a probate; and the closing of the estate is like going through a trial.

But Colorado has the Uniform Probate code which permits a kind of probate called unsupervised administration.

Attorneys are not required to be involved with this kind of probate and many families just get the forms and do the proceedings themselves. In Colorado, attorneys are forbidden to charge a percentage. Any "fiduciary" can only charge a reasonable sum for the reasonable amount of time put in. I have heard of attorneys in the area willing to settle an estate for less than $1000, even for very large estates. Normally, the costs, including attorneys' fees, are around $2500.

Estates can be started within a few days of death and the Personal Representative has the power to then immediately pay bills and distribute property. Assets are not frozen in the estate until the proceeding is closed.

Inventories, accounting reports, and Court hearings are not required. In fact, after the initial paperwork, usually involving four documents, nothing else is filed except for the Information (notice of proceedings send to immediate heirs and beneficiaries) and the affidavit of the publication of Notice to Creditors. Thus, no one will know what assets are in the estate or what the income and expenses were.

The estate cannot be closed until six months after it has started, but that does not mean that there is required activity during this time up to the end of the period. It is up to the Personal Representative concerning the timing of the steps to dismantle the estate, just as it is for the trustee in dismantling the living trust (in setting up a trust, people focus on the cost but forget about taking the thing apart). Remember that except for the paperwork previously described (the trust has its own paperwork), your personal representative or your trustee will be doing basically the same things. But for the trust, the assets will have to be handled twice - once setting up the trust and once taking it apart.

To close the estate, a one-sheet document called a Verified Statement is filed saying "we are done." No hearings - no reports - nothing more is needed.

Thus, "probates" that people have experienced in other states, or even in Colorado 25 years or so ago, have nothing to do with the Colorado procedure in the year 2002.

Therefore, when you read books on avoiding probate or go to seminars, try to put it into the Colorado experience. Living trusts could very well make sense, but do not just base your decision on emotion, jingoisms, or the entertainment experience of a good "avoid probate" dog and pony show.

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