So your duty as executor has kicked in. And the word “probate” keeps popping up.
Not sure what probate is? You’re not alone.
Most people don’t know much about the probate process in Connecticut unless they’ve had firsthand experience with it, for example, when a family member dies and his or her estate needs to be administered.
The Connecticut probate court oversees an orderly transfer of title of the decedent’s (deceased person’s) assets from the decedent’s name to his or her beneficiaries. It also makes sure that all the assets are accounted for and all the bills are paid.
If you are the executor of an estate, or if you’ve been appointed the administrator of an estate, there are important steps you will need to take to administer an estate.
Should you avoid probate?
Many people are counseled to create living trusts or adopt other estate planning strategies to avoid probate. One benefit is that a living trust allows assets in the trust to be transferred to the beneficiaries immediately after death, and there may be fewer forms to file. Another plus is that a trust is private, and an estate going through probate is public.
Avoiding probate, however, does not mean that you avoid paying estate taxes or probate fees, which are calculated based on the gross taxable estate.
So why go through probate?
It validates the authenticity of the Will.
- The actions of the executor or administrator are overseen by the probate court, and the court provides a forum for dispute resolution.
- Probate puts a time limit on creditor claims.
How Probate Works
When a person dies, they may have a Will, or they may have died ‘intestate’ – without a Will. If they had a Will, the executor of the Will initiates the probate process.
If they died without a Will, the surviving spouse, adult children or another close relative petitions the court to be appointed estate administrator. The executor or administrator assumes fiduciary responsibility for the estate.
Here are the important steps in the probate process:
1. Apply for Administration or Probate of Will: Within 30 days of the decedent’ death, a petition for administration or probate of Will must be submitted with the original Will and a copy of the death certificate.The petition includes a list of all heirs and beneficiaries. Each person listed must receive a copy of the Will and the petition. The probate court then schedules a hearing to admit the Will and appoint an executor or an administrator.
2. Take possession of the decedent’s property: Bank accounts, stocks, and any other financial assets should be placed in an estate account and kept separate from the fiduciary’s own personal accounts.
3. Record real estate: If the decedent owned real estate, within two months of appointment the fiduciary must record the Notice for Land Records/Appointment of Fiduciary form with the Town Clerk in each town where real estate is owned.
4. File an inventory of the estate: Within two months of appointment, the fiduciary must file an inventory of the estate including real estate, bank accounts, motor vehicles, household furnishings and personal effects owned in the sole name of the decedent. Some property is not included in the inventory, for example property held in a trust.
5. Pay expenses and claims: Once the fiduciary is appointed, the probate court will publish a “Notice to Creditors” in the local newspaper. Creditors have a five month “claims period” to present claims. After the five months, the fiduciary files a “Return and List of Claims” with the probate court, detailing claims the estate is responsible for.
6. File estate tax returns: The fiduciary must file a Connecticut Estate Tax Return and may be required to file a Federal Estate Tax Return. The value of assets is based on their value at the time of death. Even if you don’t owe taxes, you must file a Connecticut return. The federal return is only required if the value of the estate is a certain amount – and that amount changes almost every year. Taxes, if any, must be paid at the due date of the return.
7. Prepare a final accounting: Once all taxes are paid and the claims period has expired, the fiduciary can start to prepare the “Final Accounting and Proposed Distribution of the Estate.” The probate court will then hold a hearing, and if no objections are raised, will accept and approve the Final Accounting.
The whole process typically takes about a year but could take longer if
- the beneficiaries or heirs contest the Will,
- if the executor or administrator is not trustworthy and blurs the line between his or her accounts and the estate account,
- or if the Will is poorly written and contains ambiguities.
If your duties as executor sound too time consuming and complex, or if you decide you would rather not carry out these seven steps, contact us, we can handle it for you.
You can learn more about how probate in Connecticut works by watching this webinar by the former Probate Court Administrator, Paul Knierim.