1. Why Do
Probate Courts become Involved in the Settling of decedent's
When a person who
owns property dies, the Probate Court becomes involved to
oversee the division of property among those persons legally
entitled to it. If the person, referred to as the
"decedent", left a will, the division of property will be
carried out according to the wishes of the decedent as set
forth in the will. (The process of proving that a will is
genuine and distributing the property in it is known as
"probating'' a will.) If the decedent did not leave a will
his or her property will be divided according to
Connecticut's laws of ''intestacy.''
to over- seeing the distribution of the estate, the Probate
Court will insure that any debts of the decedent, funeral
expenses, and taxes are paid before distributing the
remaining assets of the estate.
2. When Is It
Necessary to Open an Estate?
An estate must be
opened if a decedent owned properties at the time of her
death in her name alone or together with others, but not in
survivorship. A court order is required to transfer this
type of property to the proper party.
3. What Does "In
Survivorship'' Mean, and Must Survivorship Property Be
Reported to the Probate Court?
The placing of a
savings account, shares of corporate stock, bonds or real
estate "in survivorship" with another means that each of the
named parties has an undivided equal interest in the monies,
stocks, bonds, or real estate during their joint lives. This
form of ownership grants to the joint owner(s) who survives,
ownership of all of the monies, stocks, bonds, or real
estate immediately upon the death of the joint owner.
property must be reported to the Probate Court on the
Connecticut Succession Tax Return required to be filed with
4. What Taxes
Might Be Due at the Time of Death?
Taxes payable as
a result of death include one to the federal government
called the Federal Estate Tax and another to the State of
Connecticut known as the Connecticut Succession Tax. There
may be a tax exemption and thus no tax due depending on the
relationship of the beneficiary to the decedent and the size
of the estate. Until January 1, 2005, succession tax returns
are to be filed with, and reviewed by, the Probate Court and
then forwarded to the commissioner of Revenue Services of
Connecticut. In the event that a dispute arises between the
taxpayer and the Commissioner, and a compromise is not
reached, the Probate Court will hold a hearing to determine
There is also a
Connecticut Estate Tax that applies in certain cases where
filing of a Federal Estate Tax Return is required.
There may also be
taxes payable to other states in which the decedent owned
There may be
income taxes, property taxes, and other taxes due from a
decedent if these taxes accrued prior to death. It is the
fiduciary's responsibility to ascertain and pay such taxes.
Fiduciaries are also responsible for reporting income
received during estate administration.
5. Is the Federal
Estate Tax Determined in the Same Manner as the Connecticut
the Federal Tax Reform Act of 1976 and the Economic Recovery
Tax Act of 1981 made major changes in the federal estate tax
picture from that previously in effect.
Under the new
laws, a single schedule of rates applies to determine both
gift and estate taxes. The laws are very complex, and it is
suggested that a person seek professional assistance for
an explanation of the law. In 1997, Congress enacted major
changes to these taxes, including phased-in increases to the
$600,000 exemption, which will rise to $1,000,000 over the
next six years. Please consult with your tax advisor for the
decedents dying on or after July 1, 1997, those required to
file a Connecticut Estate Tax Return must do so by filing
one signed original with the Department of Revenue Services,
25 Sigourney Street Hartford, CT 06106, and by filing a
duplicate original with the Probate Court for the district
in which the decedent last resided.
6. What Is the
Effect of Having Savings or Securities "In Trust for)
Another Person? How Do Such Bank Accounts Differ from a
Custodial Bank Account for a Minor?
Monies on deposit
in a bank account standing in the name of a depositor "in
trust for'' another become the monies of the named
beneficiary immediately upon the death of the depositor.
In 1997, the
State Legislature changed the law to permit securities to be
similarly owned by one individual "in trust for'' another.
Like the bank accounts, those securities remain the
exclusive property of the owner until death, when they are
transferred immediately to the survivor. For person dying
before January 1, 2005, a succession tax return will need to
be filed for such assets. An alternative way of providing
money in an account for the benefit of a minor child is by
opening a custodial account under the Uniform Transfers to
Minors Act. The depositor could act as a custodian of such
monies. However, the monies in a custodial account belong to
the minor at all times and can only be used for the minor's
benefit. When the minor attains the age of twenty-one, he or
she is entitled to receive those monies and may ask the
custodian for an accounting of how they were managed. The
death of the custodian prior to the beneficiary's reaching
the age of twenty-one may require the probate court to
appoint a successor custodian.
Whether or not a
succession tax is due depends upon the amount of the
transfer in relation the amount of the exemption.
7. Is There a
Simple Method to Probate a Small Estate?
Yes, if the total
assets left by a decedent in his name alone consist of
personal property and do not exceed $20,000. The decedent
may own survivorship real estate or other survivor- ship
assets exceeding $20,000 in value and still qualify for this
simple procedure. In such an event, the transfer of both
tangible and intangible personal property such as bank
accounts, shares of corporate stock, bonds, unpaid wages,
death benefits, insurance proceeds, or motor vehicles* can
be passed simply to the surviving spouse or next of kin.
requirement is that the surviving spouse or next of kin or
some suitable person file an affidavit in the Probate Court
stating that the decedent's funeral expenses and other debts
have been paid at least to the value of such assets or that
such assets are necessary to pay funeral and physicians'
expenses. Thereafter, the Judge will confirm that no other
probate proceedings have been started and will authorize by
a decree the transfer of the personal property to the
surviving spouse, next of kin some suitable person, the
funeral director, or physician to the extent needed to pay
such bills. A Succession Tax Return is also required for a
small estate, but in most cases a short form can be used.
*(Note: Under the
provision of C.G.S. j 14-16, as amended by Public Act
02-105, the owner of a motor vehicle can designate a
beneficiary on the registration certificate in writing.
In order to
obtain ownership of the vehicle after the owner's death, the
beneficiary must make application to the Department of Motor
Vehicles within 60 days of the date of death.)
8. Who Can Serve
as an Executor or Administrator of an Estate?
What Duties Does One Have?
An executor or
administrator can be anyone: a member of the decedent's
family, an attorney, a bank, or a beneficiary of a will An
executor is named in the will and chosen by the person
making the will. If that person is capable, the Court must
appoint that individual as executor. If there is no will,
the selection of an administrator is made by the Court. The
law requires that a family member or designee of the family
member be chosen, unless it appears to the Court that it
would not be in the best interests of the parties concerned,
in which case the Court will usually appoint an impartial
person or a bank.
9. Is It
Necessary to Have a Lawyer or Other Professional Help
Probate an Estate or File the Required Tax Returns?
It is often
advisable for the fiduciary to obtain professional
assistance in connection with the administration of an
The Clerk of the
Court or the Judge of Probate may provide limited assistance
by helping an individual to complete required forms and
reports. The Judge will be careful in the type of assistance
given, since he or she may be called upon at a later time to
adjudicate matters relating to the tax return, an account,
or intermediate petition. It is the fiduciary, how- ever,
who is primarily responsible for completing these forms and
reports and for taking all of the other steps necessary to
settle the estate. A booklet entitled guidelines for
Administration of Decedents' Estates'' is available from the
Court of Probate to assist fiduciaries. Responsibilities
such as preparation of tax returns and protecting unusual
assets frequently require professional help.
10. How Do You
Make Application for the Probate of a Decedent's Will?
Any person in
possession of any will must deliver such will to the probate
court in the town where the decedent had his or domicile
within 30 days after the decedent's death.
the time the will is brought to the probate court, an
application for probate of the will is filed with the Court,
and after a hearing, an executor is named. However, if the
decedent left no assets in his or her name that would pass
under the will, the will is simply placed on file and not
admitted to probate.
11. How Old can a
Will Be and Still Be Good?
A will can be
legally binding no matter how old it is. However, certain
subsequent events may cause a change in the will's formula
of distribution. For example, the subsequent birth or
adoption of a child, marriage, divorce, or annulment may
alter the will's stated disposition. Therefore, it is
extremely important for everyone to review the contents of
their wills periodically, especially if such a major life
event has occurred.
12. What Can Be
Done if a Person Dies and Has a Safe Deposit Box and a Will
May Be in the Box?
If a decedent had
a safe deposit box, and it is suspected that a will or other
important documents are in the safe deposit box, it is
possible for a Probate Court to immediately issue 5 an order
authorizing a family member or other suitable person to gain
access to the safe deposit box. The box will be opened in
the presence of a bank officer and the contents cataloged.
If a will is
discovered, it will then have to be filed in the probate
situation might involve a decedent who lived alone in a
house or apartment, and no relative can be found to take
proper action. The Court has the ability appoint a temporary
administrator immediately in order to safeguard the
decedent's belongings and to take other action to protect
13. When A Person
Dies, Are his Assets all "Frozen" and Unavailable to the
overwhelming number of cases involving joint and
survivorship assets between the decedent and family members,
funds are immediately available to the survivors without
court approval. However, assets in the name of the decedent
alone may not be used until an executor or administrator is
appointed, which, in most cases, takes only one to two
(In an emergency,
the Court can provide immediate relief.)
assets may be used to pay proper debts and expenses. A
family car may be used immediately with permission of the
Court. In addition, if all the heirs consent, an estate can
be opened in a single day so that the estate's funds can be
accessed without delay.
Even though these
assets may be available immediately to the family, with or
without court action, they still must be properly accounted
for so that the claims of creditors and the State Tax
Department are properly handled.
14.What if a
person Dies Leaving No Will? What Happens to the Property?
If the decedent
left property in his own name, then it is necessary for an
appropriate person (usually a family member) to make
application to the Probate Court for administration of the
decedent's estate. Since there is no will the property is
distributed in accordance with the Connecticut laws of
descent and distribution. The estate is called "inestate"
because there is no will.
15 How is the
Property Distributed When There Is No Will?
If the decedent
is survived by:
and children* of both spouse
takes the first $100,000 +1/2 of the remainder.
Children* take the other ½
and children* of decedent, one or more of whom is
not the child of the spouse
and parents or parents (no children**)
only(no children**, no parents)
takes ½. All the children*share the other ½ equally.
takes first $100,000 +3/4 of the remainder.
Parent(s) takes the other ¼.
only (no spouse)
(no spouse, no children**)
to the children*.
to the parent(s)
and Sisters* (no spouse, no parents, no children**)
Kin (no spouse, no children**, no parents, no
brothers** or sisters** )
to the brothers* and sisters*
to next of kin.
16. Does Death
Relieve a Family from Making Payment of Monies Owed by a
A creditor has a
right to look for payment of any outstanding obligation
incurred in the decedent's lifetime from those properties
owned by the decedent in her name alone. In most cases,
creditors and family members agree on the amount which the
decedent owed, and payment is made voluntarily by the
executor or administrator However, a creditor may want to
protect himself by filing a written claim of the debt with
the executor or administrator and, if he has been given a
specific written notice by the executor or administrator
inviting such a written claim, the creditor must file that
claim within the time limited by that notice. The failure of
the creditor to file such a claim as requested may very well
bar that creditor's right of recovery.
instances' properties in the name of the decedent and
another or others in survivorship will not be subject to the
claims of all creditors against the decedent. However, there
are exceptions to this rule which should be carefully
considered. For example, if the decedent's estate is not
sufficient to pay funeral expenses, debts due for the last
illness of the deceased and expenses for settling the
estate, and debts due to the State for aid or care to the
deceased, the decedent's proportional share of the monies on
deposit in a survivorship joint bank or savings account may
be subject to payment of those expenses.
Spouse and parent
or parents (no children's)
17. What Are the
Various Costs Involved in Settling a Decedents Affairs?
Upon the death
of any person, some or all of the following costs may be
payable to settle the decedent's affair:
(a) probate fees;
(b) fees of an
executor or administrator;
fees; and (d) taxes, state or federal.
Probate fees and
taxes due are faxed by law.The fees of an executor or
administrator and of an attorney are based upon the work
efforts of each and are subject to the approval of the
Probate Court. Often, members of the family are willing to
serve for little or no compensation.
18. What Is the
Basis for Computing Probate Charges?
Charges made by
the Probate Courts are strictly regulated by statute. They
are based on the size of the estate in the decedent's name
alone and on the amount that may have been owned with
others, such as survivorship property and other taxable
transfers. The following is the section of the statute that
is used to compute probate charges for estates in which
proceedings commenced prior to April 1, 1998
computation of costs
.01 of all in excess of $1,000
plus .0030 of all in excess of $10,000
plus .0020 of all in excess of $500,000
Notes: 1) There
is a 5% reduction in probate charges for property passing to
a spouse. 2) If the basis for costs is less than $10,000 and
a full estate is opened, the minimum cost is $100.00.
The following is
the section that is used to compute probate charges for
estates in which proceedings commence on or niter April 1,
Computation of Costs:
$4,754,000 and over
1% of all in excess of $1,000
plus .35% of all in excess of $10,000
plus| .25% of all in excess of $500,000
There is a 5% reduction in probate charges for proper
passing to a spouse. 2) If the basis for cost is less than
$10,000 and a full estate is opened, the minimum cost is
$150.00. 3) In estates where the gross taxable estate is
less than $600,000 in which no succession tax return is
required to be filed, a probate fee of.1% shall be charged
against non-solely owned real estate, in addition to any
19. How Are
Probate Charges Used by the Probate Court?
paid to the Probate Court are used to pay the salaries of
the court staff and certain operational expenses. After
payment of such costs, the net sum is retained by the Judge
as his or her only compensation, subject to an assessment
levied by the State of Connecticut. The statute strictly
limits the amount a Judge may retain as compensation, and it
now permits a Court with insufficient income to meet its
reasonable and necessary operating expenses by requesting a
subsidy from the Probate Court administer.
20. What Is a
Probate Court Hearing?
A hearing at the
probate court is an opportunity for all family members and
other parties in interest to appear at the court to ask
questions or to make certain that their views are known.
The notice of a
hearing should not be ignored if there are any questions on,
or objection to, matters being heard.
The law presently
mandates at least one hearing on all pro- bated estates.
That hearing is usually held at the closing or acceptance of
the final accounting by the executor or administrator
unless all parties sign and file with the Court a written
waiver acknowledging that they have reviewed the final
account and have given it their approval.
interested parties voluntarily sign a waiver, notice of the
hearing is required at the time each estate is opened to
pass upon the admission of a will to probate or for the
appointment of an administrator Other hearings may be
necessary at intermediary stages of the proceedings, such as
upon a request for an allowance for support of the surviving
spouse or children or for the settlement of a doubtful or
disputed claim or for the sale of real property.
are normally informal proceedings; how- ever, unresolved or
contested matters may require the taking of evidence at a
hearing so that the Judge can make a proper determination of
facts or law.
aggrieved by an order, denial, or decree of the probate
court may appeal to the Superior Court. In general, appeals
must be taken within 30 days of the date of the order,
denial, or decree.
and Documents You May Need to Provide to the Probate Court:
Certified copy of
Certificate of Death.
Original will and
codicil, if any.
A list of names
by which the deceased owned real or personal property that
will be reported to the Court, either in the inventory or in
the Succession Tax Return thirst, middle, last name).
You will have to
indicate whether the decedent or any beneficiary received
public assistance or was in a state hospital, including the
receipt of benefits under the convalescent care program
known as Title 19.
A list of all
names and addresses of the decedent's heirs. (Go on to next
letter listing if no relatives in the previous class):
Surviving husband or wife and children and if any, children
of a deceased child. (If there is a stu-vlving spouse and no
children, the parents of the deceased must be listed)
Brothers and sisters and children of deceased brothers and
Uncles and aunts
First cousins if none, then second cousins; and so on;
addresses of those who receive anything under the will or
codicil, if additional to those mentioned above.
Listing of all
assets left by decedent whether or not in survivor- ship,
Checking or savings accounts (name of bank, account number,
name or names on book, balance on date of death including
U.S. War or Savings Bonds (name or names on bonds, series
number, number on bonds, face value of bonds, value at date
Corporate Stock (name of corporation, certificate number,
common or preferred, number of shares, name or names on
certificate, value at date of death);
Real estate (copy of deed; assessed value of real estate,
which can be found on real estate tax bill; market value at
Automobile (copy of title and/or registration; value at date
Name and fair market value of any business that the deceased
owned either totally or in part;
Valuable personal property (such as coin or stamp
collections; jewelry, antiques, or art collections);
Policies of insurance not payable to a named beneficiary or
any pension or profit-sharing plan for which a death benefit
Social Security or veterans' benefits to which the deceased
outstanding bills or debts of deceased, such as:
Medical or hospital expenses and other monies owing for last
Mortgages due (lender's name, location of property, date of
mortgage, amount due at date of death)
Loans due (name of lender, amount owed at death)
Unpaid taxes; income, personal property, or real estate
General obligation (name of creditor, amount due at date of
Funeral charges and monument expense.
23. Does a
Probate Court Handle Matters other nan Matters Associated
main Decedents' Estates?
Probate Court is commonly thought of as dealing with the
distribution of a person's property after death, there are
many functions of the Court that assist the living. The
Court may be called upon to terminate parental rights when
parents are not carrying out parental responsibilities and,
in a related matter, hear claims of paternity of unwed
The Court also
considers and approves adoptions.
In other cases, a
child may need a guardian of his or her estate or person.
The guardian of an estate of a minor is appointed by the
Judge to oversee monies or properties belonging to a child,
while a guardian of the person is appointed to approve the
proper care of a child. The appointment of guardians for
persons with mental retardation, as well as sterilizations
and placements of mentally retarded persons, are also within
the jurisdiction of the Courts.
The Court also
aids mentally and/or physically incapable persons who are
unable to manage or administer their own affairs. In such
cases, the Court, after a hearing, appoints a conservator to
act on behalf of the incapable person. In addition, the
Court is empowered to commit a person suffering from severe
mental illness to an appropriate hospital.
The Court also
receives and passes on various fiduciaries' accounts,
including accounts of conservators, guardians, testamentary
trustees, and in some cases, trustees under an inter vinos
responsibility of a Probate Judge is to approve or
disapprove the marriage of a youth under the age of sixteen
years. The Court is also empowered to waive the blood tests
required for the issuance of a marriage license and has
jurisdiction to grant a change of name. As a courtesy to the
public, a large number of Courts will assist persons in
For more specific
information on the other areas of probate court
jurisdiction, you may wish to consult the other pamphlets
published by the Probate Court Administrator:
publication, many others and for additional information on
the dutys of the Probate Court please go to:
Termination of Parental Rights and Adoption Procedures
Guidelines for Guardianships of Minors
Court Proceedings Involving Persona with Mental Retardation
Guidelines for Conservators
Guidelines for Administration of Decedents’ Estates
Understanding Trust: A Look at living Trusts and other