When a person in Colorado dies without leaving behind a will or trust, this is known as dying intestate. What this means is that the deceased's estate will go through the probate process. Because there is no document stating who the deceased wants to inherit their estate, state law determines who is to inherit.
Essentially, probate is an administrative process. First, a person will start a case in probate court. The court then rules that the deceased did not leave behind a will and will appoint an administrator for the deceased's estate. It is the administrator's duty to collect the estate assets, identify those who may inherit from the estate and provide creditors with notification of the deceased's passing. The deceased's assets will be liquidated to cover debts and taxes. What remains is then distributed to the deceased's heirs as laid out in state statutes.
Probate can be a lengthy and expensive process, as the administrator of the estate is generally obliged to obtain permission from the court for each step of the process. There are many hearings involved; thus, the probate process could take as many as two or more years. Moreover, state laws regarding who is to inherit the deceased's estate may not align with what the deceased would have wanted.
Therefore, it is generally advised to draft a will. A will at least documents your wishes, so they can be adhered to, to the extent that is possible. A will is a legal document, and there are certain formalities that must be met for it to be valid. For example, a certain number of witnesses must be present when it is signed, and it cannot be signed under coercion or undue influence. However, a properly executed will can not only document the deceased's wishes with regards to their estate, but also make the estate administration process run more smoothly.