How is an estate settled?
Settling a decedent's estate involves a number of steps to ensure that their wishes are carried out and the title of property passes to the intended individuals.
First, determine if probate is required
A probate estate occurs when the decedent owns individually-held property without a beneficiary designation that exceeds $40,000 or the decedent has a sole interest in real property of any value.
- If the decedent's assets are all non-probate, meaning that he or she has a fully-funded revocable trust (commonly referred to as a "living trust"), or assets that are held in survivorship or have a beneficiary designated, no full probate administration is required.
- If the decedent has less than $40,000 in probate assets and no sole interest in real property, then a full probate estate is not required, but some additional probate forms, concerning the decedent’s assets and debts, will need to be filed.
Note of caution: An Estate Tax Return is required by law for all Connecticut estates, regardless of whether probate is required. An Estate Tax Return also serves to release the liens which are automatically placed on the decedent’s real property upon his or her death
What's the probate court's role?
Generally, when a person dies, the probate court serves to ensure that:
- If there was a Will, it is the decedent's true Last Will and Testament, and not a forged or revoked version.
- The decedent's assets are safeguarded and protected from waste, theft, or neglect.
- Only valid bills and debts are paid, including death and inheritance taxes, if any.
- What remains in the estate after the payment of debts, expenses and taxes is distributed to the intended beneficiaries in accordance with the decedent's valid Last Will and Testament.
If probate administration is required...
...it can occur with a Will or without a Will.
If the decedent died with a valid Will, the executor designated in the Will should request that the Will be admitted for probate and that he or she be appointed as executor. The executor may, however, decline to serve, and let the backup executor named in the Will serve instead.
If there is no executor who is willing or able to serve, then someone else (usually a family member or other interested party) can petition the probate court to be appointed as Administrator. The administrator’s role is essentially the same role as that of an Executor.
If the decedent died without a valid Will, the process is not remarkably different. As there is no designated executor, the court will appoint an administrator of the estate and the estate will pass in accordance with what Connecticut law provides instead of in accordance with the decedent's wishes.