An estate plan is generally comprised of a collection of various documents including wills and other testamentary documents, such as durable powers of attorney. Everyone has their own unique preferences that influence what documents they include in an estate plan and what goals they set for the process.
Although most people recognize that estate plans are crucial for an individual’s protection and the comfort of their family members after a death or other tragic occurrence, quite a few people avoid estate planning. Research in 2022 indicated that only a third of adult Americans surveyed had estate plans in place.
The remaining two-thirds of adults risk having no control over their legacies. What happens if someone dies in Colorado without a will or other testamentary documents on record?
Colorado law has rules for this situation
If a person dies without a will (known as “intestacy”), the law, rather than the person’s wishes, determines how and to whom the property is divided and distributed. Intestate succession laws in Colorado provide very clear instructions for the probate courts and surviving family members of those who die intestate.
If the person who dies has a spouse who survives them, their spouse has the right to inherit from their estate. Any surviving children or parents may also have a claim to some of the property in an estate. The nature of the relationship between the surviving spouse and the children will determine the exact division of the estate resources. If the surviving spouse is also the legal or biological parent of those children, then the spouse receives the entire estate. If, however, the surviving spouse is a step-parent, then the surviving spouse may not receive the entire estate.
In situations where a person dies while unmarried and without any children, other family members, sometimes distant, may have the right to inherit from their estate. Colorado’s law specifically describes the inheritance rights of descendants, parents, siblings and grandparents. In the relatively rare scenario where the state cannot locate any surviving family members after someone’s passing, then the resources from the estate may eventually transfer to the state escheat account.
Creating an estate plan is a very personal process that usually reflects someone’s personal values and the relationships that they have maintained with their family members. Investing the time and consideration necessary to create an estate plan gives you control over your legacy, avoid unintended results, and provide protection to your loved ones in the wake of a family tragedy.