If you die without a will in Colorado, your assets will go to your closest relatives under state "intestate succession" laws. Here are some details about how intestate succession works in Colorado.
Only assets that pass through probate are affected by intestate succession laws. Many valuable assets don't go through probate and therefore aren't affected by intestate succession laws. Here are some examples:
These assets will pass to the surviving co-owner or to the beneficiary you named, whether or not you have a will. However, if you don't have a will and none of the named beneficiaries are alive to take the property, then the property could end up being transferred according to intestate succession.
To learn more about these types of assets, go to the How to Avoid Probate section of Nolo.com or read about Avoiding Probate in Colorado.
Under intestate succession, who gets what depends on whether or not you have living children, parents, or other close relatives when you die. Here's a quick overview:
If you die with:
here's what happens:
|children but no spouse||children inherit everything|
|spouse but no descendants||spouse inherits everything|
|spouse and descendants from you and that spouse, and the spouse has no other descendants||spouse inherits everything|
|spouse and descendants from you and that spouse, and the spouse has descendants from another relationship||spouse inherits the first $225,000 of your intestate property, plus 1/2 of the balance
your descendants inherit everything else
|spouse and descendants from you and someone other than that spouse||spouse inherits the first $150,000 of your intestate property, plus 1/2 of the balance
descendants inherit everything else
|spouse and parents||spouse inherits the first $300,000 of your intestate property, plus 3/4 of the balance
parents inherit remaining intestate property
|parents but no spouse or descendants||parents inherit everything|
|siblings but no spouse, descendants, or parents||siblings inherit everything|
In Colorado, if you are married and you die without a will, what your spouse gets depends on whether or not you have living parents or descendants -- children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. If you don't, then your spouse inherits all of your intestate property. If you do, they and your spouse will share your intestate property as follows:
If you die with parents but no descendants. Your surviving spouse inherits the first $300,000 of your intestate property, plus 3/4 of the balance.
Example: Gerry is married to Joe, and her father is still alive. Gerry owns a house in joint tenancy with Joe, and Joe is also the named beneficiary of Gerry's retirement account. When Gerry dies, Joe automatically inherits the house and any remaining retirement funds; those things are not intestate property. Because Gerry has significant additional property that would have passed under a will, Joe inherits $300,000 worth of that property plus 3/4 of everything else. The remaining 1/4 of the intestate property goes to Gerry's father.
If you die with children or other descendants from you and the surviving spouse, and your surviving spouse has no descendants from previous relationships. Your surviving spouse inherits all of your intestate property.
If you die with children or other descendants from you and the surviving spouse, and your surviving spouse has other descendants from previous relationships. Your surviving spouse inherits the first $225,000 of your intestate property, plus 1/2 of the balance.
Example: Bill is married to Karen, and they have two grown children. Karen also has a son from a previous marriage. Bill and Karen own a large bank account in joint tenancy, and Bill took out a life insurance policy naming Karen as the beneficiary. When Bill dies, Karen receives the life insurance policy proceeds and inherits the bank account outright. Bill also owns a good deal of other property that would have passed under a will, so Karen inherits $225,000 worth of that property plus half of everything else. The remaining half of Bill's intestate property goes to Bill's and Karen's two children.
If you die with adult descendants who are not the descendants of your surviving spouse. Your spouse inherits the first $150,000 of your intestate property, plus 1/2 of the balance.
Note: The dollar amounts listed here are based on the amounts as of 2010 and can be higher or lower, depending on the consumer price index. The state's department of revenue office publishes a list each year with the current amounts that apply to estates for people who died that year. Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 15-10-112.
If you die without a will in Colorado, your children will receive an "intestate share" of your property. The size of each child's share depends on how many children you have, whether or not you are married, and whether or not your spouse is also their biological parent. (See the table above.)
For children to inherit from you under the laws of intestacy, the state of Colorado must consider them your children, legally. For many families, this is not a confusing issue. But it's not always clear. Here are some things to keep in mind.
If you want to read the law, Colorado Revised Statutes § § 15-11-115 to 15-11-122 cover parent-child relationships.
This can be a tricky area of the law, so if you have questions about your relationship to your parent or child, get help from an experienced attorney.
If you die without a will and don't have any family, your property will "escheat" into the state's coffers. However, this very rarely happens because the laws are designed to get your property to anyone who was even remotely related to you. For example, your property won't go to the state if you leave a spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, siblings, nieces, nephews, or cousins.
Here are a few other things to know about Colorado intestacy laws.
Colorado's intestate succession laws are contained in Sections 15-11-101 to 15-11-122 of the Colorado Revised Statutes.
To learn more about intestate succession, read How an Estate Is Settled If There's No Will.
For more about estate planning, go to the Wills, Trusts & Probate section of Nolo.com.
Need a lawyer? Search for an experienced estate planning attorney with Nolo's Lawyer Directory.