Dying Without a Will in Colorado

It comes down to the state's intestacy succession laws

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When a Colorado resident dies without a last will and testament, the intestacy succession laws found in the state's probate code take over. They dictate who inherits the deceased's probate estate.

All states have succession laws on their books and many are similar, but they can vary in subtle ways. They depend on who survives the decedent. 

When the Decedent Is Survived by a Spouse

When the decedent is survived by a spouse but no children or parents, the surviving spouse inherits the entire probate estate.

The same applies when the decedent is survived by a spouse and children and all the children are also the children of the surviving spouse. 

The surviving spouse inherits the first $150,000 of the probate estate plus one half of the balance of the estate if she has children that are not also the children of the deceased. The decedent's children would inherit the remainder of the estate per stirpes, a legal term that means each will receive an equal share of that portion of the estate. 

The surviving spouse's share reduces to $100,000 off the top of the estate and half the balance of the estate if she survives the deceased and the deceased had adult children who were not also her children. The deceased's children would share the balance of the estate per stirpes. 

If at least one of the children is a minor and that child is the descendant of the deceased but not of the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse inherits half the estate and the deceased's children inherit the other half.

The surviving spouse inherits the first $200,000 of the probate estate and 75 percent of the balance of the estate when the deceased is survived by both a spouse and parents. The parents receive the remaining 25 percent equally, or if there is only one surviving parent, that parent would solely inherit the remaining 25 percent.

When There's No Surviving Spouse 

When the deceased is survived by descendants but no spouse, her descendants inherit the entire probate estate per stirpes. Descendants include children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and their offspring. They "descend" from the deceased. 

When the deceased is survived by a parent or parents but no spouse or descendants, his parents inherit the probate estate in equal shares if both are living. Otherwise, the entire probate estate would go to the only surviving parent.

When There's No Spouse, Descendants, or Parents

What happens under the Colorado intestacy laws in the rare case that the deceased is not survived by a spouse, any descendants, or parents? His siblings and their descendants are next in line. His brothers and sisters would inherit the entire estate per stirpes unless one or more of them is also deceased. In this case, their shares would pass to their children per stirpes. 

Finally, if the deceased leaves no family members at all, the entire probate estate will escheat to the State of Colorado. In other words, it goes to the state more or less by default. 

What Will You Inherit From a Colorado Intestate Estate?

Even if you determine that you're entitled to an intestate share of your relative's estate according to Colorado's intestacy laws, you still might not inherit anything.

If your relative left only non-probate property—assets that pass directly to a survivor by contract or operation of law—there would be nothing to distribute to his intestate heirs.

These assets can include insurance policies and retirement accounts with named beneficiaries or property held with rights of survivorship. They transfer directly to the deceased's co-owner or named beneficiary without the necessity of probate.

If your relative died owing debts that exceed the value of his probate estate, there would be nothing to distribute to heirs. The estate would be insolvent. His creditors would receive everything, leaving nothing for heirs. 

If you're not sure about your legal rights as an intestate heir in Colorado, consult with a probate attorney to be sure. State laws change frequently and this information might not reflect recent changes.

The information contained in this article is not tax or legal advice and is not a substitute for tax or legal advice.