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What happens if someone dies without a will or estate plan?

On Behalf of | Jul 21, 2023 | Estate Planning |

The average adult knows that estate planning is important, but they may view it as expensive or unpleasant, which could inspire them to procrastinate rather than engage in this effort. They may recognize that having a plan in place would give them peace of mind and would extend better protections to their closest loved ones, but despite knowing that, they may continue to put off writing a will or creating other estate planning documents.

The concern with that approach is that those who die without a will or other testamentary documents in Colorado will then have no control over the distribution of their property – and possibly even the guardianship of their minor children – if and when they die.

Lawmakers have rules for property distribution in place

The good news for those worried about a loved one who has died without an estate plan is that their property won’t end up belonging to the state necessarily, which is what many people think will happen during intestate succession. Instead, the law in Colorado prioritizes an individual’s closest family members as intestate beneficiaries.

Spouses and children can potentially inherit all of someone’s property if they die without a will. Those who don’t get married and have no progeny will have their assets passed to other family members, including their parents. For those who do not have a close relationship with their immediate family members or who have not married their romantic partners, intestate succession can undermine their wishes and may even seem cruel to the people closest to the deceased.

Even those with documents could face intestate succession

In theory, the process of putting together an estate plan, including a will, would give someone control over what happens to their property when they die. Unfortunately, not every will or estate plan is valid and enforceable in the Colorado probate courts. Especially when family members raise questions about the testamentary capacity of an older adult or the possibility of undue influence altering their instructions, the courts might set aside a will or estate plan, which might lead to intestate succession if there aren’t earlier versions of those documents available.

Those who engage in estate planning early in life and who occasionally revisit and update their documents are generally in the best position to control what happens to their property when they die and to support their loved ones during that difficult time. Making the effort to create a Colorado estate plan might help someone to better ensure the stability of their family regardless of what life brings.