Recently, several people have come into my office with questions about property rights and what to do after someone has passed away. Unfortunately, many of these people waited too long to do anything, and there was very little I could do for them.
However, this situation is very understandable. The process of losing a loved one and dealing with the property was stressful, and they thought their family would agree on how to handle everything. But, after a couple of years of family conflict, they found out that they had waited too long, and now they have limited options.
When someone passes away, the legal process of handling their affairs and distributing their property is called probate. If there is a Will, it is filed with the court and a person is appointed to make sure the terms of the Will are followed. If there is not a Will, then the person’s property is distributed based on default statutory laws, called intestacy.
In both Colorado and New Mexico, the general rule is that this process has to start within three years of the person’s death. If you wait too long, then a court will not accept a Will, and its terms will not be enforced. This means that some people may not get the property that was intentionally left to them in the Will.
Obviously, any time lawyers and courts are involved, the process can be expensive and even more stressful. But, surprisingly, in some cases this process can be relatively easy.
When a person dies and does not have a lot of property, their assets can be dealt with without having to go to court. In Colorado, if a person died in 2013, did not have any real estate, and the total value of their personal property is less than $63,000, the property can be dealt with by using a process called Collection of Personal Property by Affidavit. In New Mexico, the requirements are similar, but the asset limit is $50,000.
This process allows a person to sign an affidavit and collect all of the deceased person’s assets in order to distribute them according to a Will, or distribute them to the deceased person’s family. To execute the affidavit, all you need is a notary public, and nothing needs to be filed with the court. So, this can save a lot of time and money.
As I said above, the deceased person cannot have any real estate after their death. But there are several situations that this can occur, even if the person lives in and owns a home at the time of their death. If the property is held in joint tenancy with right of survivorship, or if there is a beneficiary deed or life estate, the property transfers to someone else the moment the person dies.
Therefore, depending on how much other personal property the person had, it may be possible to use the Collection of Personal Property by Affidavit process, and avoid going to court.