Nicole: Probate is the required court process that happens when someone passes away. In the state of Colorado, there are two things that pull a state into probate. One is if you own any real property, that’s any land, house, or mineral interests. The other is if you have 80,000 or more in total assets (as of 2023).
Cristyn: Probate, we want to avoid it because it’s very unpleasant. We hear a lot of times people saying things like, “Oh, this should be a very easy probate. Probating my estate will be easy.” Well, easy is a relative term. Easy compared to what? Again, using Colorado as an example, because Colorado definitely is one of the more easy states to go through probate than, say, California or Florida. It’s still required in Colorado to be open six months. Missouri, for example, is eight. States have different varying durations for how long the probate has to be open.
Keep in mind, opening the probate is the date that the court appoints the person who’s going to run it. There’s work to be done before that person gets appointed, even when everybody agrees. In our experience where we handle namely uncontested, meaning we’re not litigating in court cases, we’re not wrapping things up in six months. I’d say it’s more like 12 to 18 months. Would you agree?
Cristyn: What else is terrible about probate?
Nicole: The cost. Probate right now is costing anywhere between $9,000 and $15,000. That’s money that’s going to court costs and attorney fees instead of your loved ones. The good news is you can avoid probate if you have the proper estate plan in place.
Cristyn: That’s absolutely true. Another thing that I really want to hit home on that doesn’t have to do with time, and it doesn’t have to do with money, that’s really hard in probate, is the fact that families start fighting. If we’re sisters and we come in on meeting one, we’re sad that we just lost a parent, but we’re really getting along and have a team effort. Over time, the more hiccups that come– and they come. Hiccups always appear when we don’t have a good plan in place.
The more documents we have to do, because there are court-required documents that have to be done, it drags things out. Over time, we watch our clients slowly start to nibble at each other, and then they’re fighting over things that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise fought over, like personal property. I don’t know how many calls we get to our office where people want to fight over toys from a daycare, a chest of drawers, a trunk that probably, if a plan had been in place, nobody would’ve wanted.
Now we are at risk of family members who should be focusing on grieving the family, continuing to be loved ones, that now we’re fighting over things that are trivial in a large space of things because we have this big court process that’s really just blocking the grieving process for the people going through it. We’ve had clients where after we finish it, there’s this big sigh of relief when we call to say, “Just want to let you know your case is completely closed and we’ve withdrawn,” and you hear this, and then you can hear the crying start, “I can finally start grieving now.”
Parent passed away 10 months ago, and we’re starting now. That’s really hard, and I can’t emphasize enough how difficult that is for all of our clients. Sometimes we get clients on the back end who come in to do estate planning and say, “I’m here because, when my mom died, my sister and I stopped talking to each other. It’s been seven years.” Like Nicole said, it’s all easily fixable by putting the right documents in place.