Estate Administration

1. What is a Probate Court?

In Connecticut, the estate of someone who has died is administered in a specialized Court of limited jurisdiction referred to as a Probate Court. Historically, Probate Courts have been small and local with most towns and cities in Connecticut having a separate Probate Court serving residents of its town. In 2009 the Connecticut legislature required consolidation of many of the smaller Courts, effective as of January 1, 2011.

2. What are probate assets?

Probate assets are assets titled in the sole name of the decedent that do not, by operation of law, pass to a designated beneficiary. Examples include a bank account titled in the sole name of Joseph Smith, the decedent, or real estate titled in his sole name. The only way a probate asset can be transferred to the beneficiary named in Joseph Smith’s Will or to his heirs-at-law (if he has no Will) is by the Probate Court.

3. What are Non-Probate assets?

Non-probate assets are those that pass to a surviving beneficiary by operation of law and irrespective of what may be said in the decedent’s Will. Common examples of non-probate assets are joint accounts, jointly owned real estate, payable on death accounts, life insurance policies, and retirement accounts such as an IRA, 401(k), 403 (b) or similar retirement account. No assistance from the Probate Court is required to transfer title to non-probate assets.

4. What function does the Probate Court serve in the estate administration process?

The primary function of the Probate Court is to transfer the title of probate assets owned by the decedent to the beneficiaries named in the Will, or the heirs-at-law, if there is no Will. This function is described in greater detail in F.A.Q. # 2, above. In Connecticut, a second important function of the Probate Court is to receive, review and approve the Connecticut Estate Tax Return. The Connecticut Estate Tax Return is discussed in greater detail in F. A. Q. # 5.

5. What can you tell me about the Connecticut Estate Tax?

            A. Connecticut law requires that a Connecticut Estate Tax Return be filed for all decedents dying after January 1, 2005. This requirement applies even if no estate tax is payable.

            B. In determining whether any estate tax is payable, there is an unlimited exemption for assets that constitute part of the gross taxable estate and pass to the surviving spouse. There is an exemption of $3,500,000.00 for assets that constitute part of the gross taxable estate and pass to non-spouse beneficiaries.

            C. The Probate Court where the Return is filed will render a bill for a statutory probate fee. The statutory probate fee is used to help support the Probate Court system. The statutory probate fee is a small percentage of the gross taxable estate reported on the Connecticut Estate Tax Return. The percentage begins at 1% for estates over $1,000.00 but under $10,000.00, decreases to .35% for estates between $10,000.00 and $500,000.00, and remains at .25% for all estates over $500,000.00.

6. How long will the probate process last?

That will depend upon the complexity of issues involved in the estate administration process and the speed with which one files required documents with the Probate Court. Our experience is that in most instances the probate administration process is completed within nine (9) months from the date that documents are first filed with the Court.

7. What is ancillary probate?

Connecticut Probate Courts have no jurisdiction over real estate located in another State or country. In order to transfer the ownership of non-Connecticut real estate from the decedent to his/her living beneficiaries/heirs, one must open a probate estate in the State or country where the real estate is located. The probate process that takes place in the other State or country is what is referred to as “ancillary probate”. Ancillary probate can be avoided if the non-Connecticut real estate is titled as owned by a Revocable Trust. If that is the case, the successor Trustee can transfer the real estate by a Trustee’s Deed without the need to go through an ancillary probate proceeding. For information about a Revocable Trust, see F.A.Q. # 8 in the section on Estate Planning.

8. Can I file documents with the Probate Court without legal help?

The short answer is yes, but, as with any project that requires specialized experience and knowledge, it almost always is less stressful, more efficient, and more expeditious if you hire an attorney to do so.

9. If I ask for your help, how much will it cost me?

The initial consultation always is free. The initial consultation will give us an opportunity to meet with each other, discuss the project in detail, and be certain we have a mutual comfort level. By finding out more about the nature of the legal work that will be required, the initial consultation also will allow us to quote a fee that is fair and reasonable, taking into account the nature of that work. If you are not happy with what we tell you, you have no obligation to proceed any further.