My Dad Died Without A Will, What Do I Do?

~ By Nathan L. Andersohn, Esq. ~

If your dad was a widower or divorced, it will be up to you and your siblings to handle his affairs.

The first thing is to determine if your dad had a pre-paid burial plan or any written instructions as to his final plans. If he was a veteran, consider the options available through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (http://www.va.gov/).

Do not trouble yourself about the will or the lack of will; a probate action cannot be opened until 120 hours after a person’s death. Family comes first, so take care of the memorial, funeral, and burial.

After the funeral, look hard for a will. Sometimes, people are private about their legal affairs (not wise as to estate planning!). If his will cannot be found, contact a lawyer experienced in probate administration and inquire as to the needs to probate the estate.

If your dad is a Colorado resident and owns real estate in his sole name, or has assets over $64,000.00, a probate action will be necessary.

If you have siblings, you have to decide who is going to take care of the estate (the personal representative). If all of the siblings agree that you may act as the personal representative, your lawyer will open an informal estate proceeding. If you don’t get along with your siblings, your lawyer will petition the court for a formal probate proceeding, which of course costs more and takes longer.

Children from multiple marriages, civil unions, unmarried relationships, and paternity claims all raise issues that are outside the scope of this article.

Hopefully, your dad kept good records of real estate owned, stock brokerage accounts, pensions, insurance, and annuities. Take all of this to your lawyer, along with any information concerning debt, judgments, or taxes owed.

The personal representative will have many duties including filing last income tax returns (federal and state if required), gathering assets, paying legitimate bills, and preparing an inventory of all of dad’s assets. The inventory is usually provided to all the children (heirs) within 90 days of the appointment of the personal representative.

The best reasons to seek legal counsel upon your father’s death are:

  • Making sure that you comply with Colorado law
  • Analyzing potential tax issues
  • Reducing stress and conflict with siblings
  • Determining which bills must be paid and letting the lawyer communicate with creditors
  • Avoiding personal liability for your actions

Lawyer and tax accountant fees are tax deductible for estates, if you are required to file a Form 1041 income tax return for your father.


The author, Nathan L. Andersohn, Esq., is taking new probate, estate planning, business, and real estate law clients. See www.andersohnlaw.com. Mr. Andersohn is not a native of Colorado, but he got here as quickly as he could to attend the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver and Sturm College of Law and has practiced law in Westminster and Broomfield for 27 years. 11971 Quay St., Broomfield, CO 80020. 303-650-6414.

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