When a Colorado resident dies without a last will and testament, the intestacy succession laws found in the state's probate code take over. The laws dictate who inherits the deceased's estate.
All states have succession laws in their books. Many are similar, but each can vary in subtle ways. The intestate succession in Colorado depends on who is still living when a person passes away.
When the Deceased Is Survived by a Spouse
When the deceased is survived by only a spouse (no children or parents), the surviving spouse inherits the entire probate estate (in this case, probate is the legal process of dividing up an estate). The same applies when the decedent (person who died) is survived by a spouse and children, but only if all of the children are also the children of the surviving spouse.
Spouse With Unrelated Children
The surviving spouse inherits the first $225,000 of the probate estate plus 50% of the balance of the estate, if the spouse has children of the descendant's and descendants from another relationship. The deceased'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.
Spouse With Unrelated Adult Children
The surviving spouse's share reduces to $150,000 and 50% of the balance of the estate if she survives the deceased, and the deceased had adult children who were not the spouse's children. The deceased's children would share the balance of the estate per stirpes.
Surviving Spouse and Parents
The surviving spouse inherits the first $300,000 of the probate estate and 75% of the balance of the estate when the deceased is survived by both a spouse and parents. The parents receive the remaining 25% equally. If there is only one surviving parent, that parent would inherit the remaining 25%.
When There's No Surviving Spouse
When the deceased is survived by descendants but no spouse, their 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, their 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? That person's siblings and their descendants are next in line.
The 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.
If There Are No Relatives
Finally, if the deceased leaves no family members at all, the entire probate estate will escheat (banks are required to turn the funds over to the state) to the State of Colorado. In other words, the estate 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 only left non-probate property—assets that pass directly to a survivor by contract, beneficiary, or operation of law—there would be nothing to distribute to any intestate heirs.
These assets can include insurance policies, 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 with debt that exceeded the value of their probate estate, there would be nothing to distribute to heirs. The estate would be insolvent (unable to pay debts) and the creditors would receive everything, leaving nothing for the beneficiaries.
NOTE: State laws change frequently and the following information may not reflect recent changes in the laws. For current tax or legal advice, please consult with an accountant or an attorney since the information contained in this article is not tax or legal advice and is not a substitute for tax or legal advice.