We talk a lot about the aging population in Connecticut in this column – how we face the same issues as the rest of the nation, and how we sometimes differ – but there is another facet to aging that should be addressed from time to time – the end of life.
Death it is called. And right after a person dies, or should I say soon after a person dies because funeral issues come first, the survivors encounter the world of Probate. In this world we find the rules for disposition of the deceased person’s belongings, called the estate.
Sometimes this is simply a procedural matter – finding out which set of rules fits the situation. Other times it can be more complicated, and this is usually the case when the estate is large and many people are named in a will – or not.
I have talked with myriad people over the last few years who have become enmeshed in the probate system for one reason or another and many are not happy about their experiences. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
There are four basic yet different types of probate filings that await the survivors, some of which can lead to intricate and involved court cases while others are pretty straightforward and take little in the way of time and effort.
First and foremost is the Full Estate – which involves everyone who leaves $40,000 or more in solely owned personal property or real property. When you file under the Full Estate heading you also must supply a certified copy of the death certificate, an Application for Administration or Probate of Will in duplicate, the original will and codicils, the executor must either be bonded or get a waiver for the bond, and additional documents may be required depending on the inclinations of the will’s beneficiaries.
For estates that are valued at less than $40,000 in personal property and no real property the executor of the estate can file an Affidavit in Lieu, which dispenses with probate proceedings, but don’t think that is necessarily an easy route. There still are several forms ranging from the original will to receipt for funeral expenses, and an Opinion of No CT Estate Tax.
For estates where there is no property to be administered which includes those where bank accounts were jointly held and real property is in survivorship – which means it was previously owned by both the deceased and the surviving partner, who now owns it all – the executor of the estate can file under the Tax Purposes Only heading. While this is less of an issue than the classifications listed above it still can require the filing of numerous forms that substantiate the nature of the estate.
Finally, in cases where there are no assets the executor can submit a File Will Only form which is basically an affidavit for filing a will that is not being submitted for probate, along with the will and death certificate. Obviously this is the easiest but that is because there is nothing to debate or argue about.
The clerks of the Probate Courts throughout Connecticut can explain this far better than I can if necessary. Thus I would recommend that anyone who is handling the affairs of a deceased person, or is about to, may want to make an appointment in their regional probate office so they can be familiar with the rules when it becomes necessary.
It also should be pointed out that the more complicated the filing the more it costs to handle the probate issues. Each form has a cost associated with it so as a rule of thumb, the more forms, the higher the costs.
Basically, as I see it, transferring the bulk of our property when we are alive to people who would have received it when we die anyway may be a good way to ease our survivors’ burdens ahead of time. I should stress though, that I am not a lawyer and have no personal knowledge how probate works, so finding an attorney who specializes in probate issues could be a prudent move.
This is not an advertisement for the Connecticut Bar Association, I’m just pointing out that when things get complicated it is best to simplify and the best way to do that when you are dealing with legalities is by hiring someone who understands legalities.
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