The Denver law office of Dennis E. Valentine provides the following answers to questions frequently encountered as we provide estate planning services and probate and estate administration throughout the Denver metro area. We hope this information is helpful to you. If you have other questions or need assistance in estate planning or administration, please contact Dennis E. Valentine, Attorney at Law.
Q. Do I need a will?
A. Your estate will be distributed whether or not you have a will. The difference is that with a will you direct where your property goes and who serves as your personal representative, whereas if you die intestate (without a will), the Colorado laws will dictate where your property goes and who acts as the personal representative of your estate. Having a will provides peace of mind to you and your family that they will be taken care of upon your passing according to your wishes. Of course, many estate plans today are accomplished through the use of a trust. However, it is still a good idea to have a will so that any assets not specifically titled in the name of a trust will be accounted for and taken care of. A will is also the proper vehicle for naming a guardian for any minor children.
Q. What are the requirements for a valid will?
A. The person making the will - the testator - must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. The will must be in writing and signed by the testator, or signed by another at the testator's direction. Two competent witnesses must also sign the will, declaring that they witnessed the testator's signing or the testator's acknowledgement that the signature belongs to the testator. The law also accepts holographic (handmade) wills, if they are signed by the testator and the material provisions are written in the testator's own handwriting.
While these rules sound simple, there are many mistakes that can be made. It is strongly recommended that you hire an experienced estate planning attorney to draft your will, in order to avoid later will contests and challenges that could frustrate your intentions.
Q. Can I avoid probate?
A. In the case of fairly small estates (less than $60,000), or if certain steps are taken in advance regarding your home and property, it is possible in some cases to entirely avoid probate. This may not always be in your best interest, however, as your financial goals likely include maximizing wealth during your lifetime for yourself and your family, as well as your heirs and beneficiaries. Avoiding or minimizing probate is a worthy goal, but it is only one of many considerations to take into account when planning your estate.
Q. How long does probate take?
A. While thoughtful estate planning can minimize the time and expense of probate, there are still several steps to the probate process that require a certain amount of time to complete. For instance, all the assets of the estate must be identified and inventoried; creditors and others with a potential claim against the estate must be notified or have an opportunity to appear; certain property may be sold; taxes must be paid; and so on. The length of the probate process in any particular case depends upon a variety of factors, including the size and value of the estate, whether there is a will or not and whether it is contested, and the type and complexity of the assets involved. While it is possible for probate to drag on for a year or more, we take a diligent approach to probate and estate administration and work to have probate closed within a matter of about eight months wherever possible.