Connecticut Probate Cannot be Avoided


For those of you who have not been through the probate process in Connecticut yet, I'm writing to give you a head's-up about the fact that there is no way to completely avoid probate in this state.

In other words, even if you do everything humanly possible to avoid probate, which is to say you use a revocable living trust (and actually fund it, by the way!), you have updated beneficiaries on your life insurance, retirement accounts, annuities, etc., you use joint ownership effectively, and you use TOD/POD features if available, someone will still need to file documents with the probate court upon your passing.

The most important document to file, regardless of how many assets (if any) have to go through probate, is the estate tax return.  The return needs to list everything in your name when you died, including probate and non-probate assets.  The court will use this return to determine if there is any estate tax liability to attend to. It will also be used to calculate the probate court's fee. And yes, there will be a probate court fee even if none of your assets are actually processed through probate.

Now, having said that, please keep in mind that there is an enormous difference between filing a few documents with the court and going through a full-blown probate process (maybe 10-12 months of administration, even if everything goes smoothly). So it is still worthwhile to consider some probate-avoidance maneuvers you can make before you pass away.   

So, to sum up, you can only minimize Connecticut probate upon death.  You cannot avoid it entirely.

DISCLAIMER: This blog does not offer legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.  If you need legal advice, consult with a lawyer instead of a blog.

Keeping it Simple with "Small" Probate in Connecticut


As you take whatever steps that are necessary to avoid probate in Connecticut (which seems to be a mild passion for many of my clients) you should keep in mind that the probate process for "small" probate estates is pretty quick and straightforward.

"Small" is, of course, a relative term.  As far as the State legislature is concerned, your estate is small if your probate assets are under $40,000.  "Probate assets" are assets that are solely in the name of the decedent and do not have a designated beneficiary.  So, joint assets and things like life insurance policies, annuities, 401K's, IRA's, POD (payable-on-death) accounts, etc. are generally not probate assets.

Please note that the threshold amount for "small" probate was $20,000, but that was increased to $40,000 in 2007.

Generally speaking, if it's a small estate you only need to file the following with the probate court: (1) the original will, (2) an affidavit confirming that you are not "probating" the will, (3) an "affidavit in lieu of administration" , (4) an original death certificate, (5) a copy of the paid funeral bill, or a statement of the outstanding balance, and (4)  an estate tax return listing everything that was in the decedent's name (both probate AND non-probate assets) so that the Court can determine if any estate tax is due.

If there is no will then the remaining funds will be distributed in accordance with the laws of intestacy, which is to say that it generally goes to the next-of-kin under Connecticut law.

If there is a will and the distribution instructions are not consistent with the laws of intestacy then you can still keep it simple if all the heirs waive their right to contest the will.  The Court will then simply order distribution pursuant to the will's instructions. 

Of course, if the heirs aren't pleased with the proceedings for some reason, then things will probably get pretty complicated.  In all likelihood, the simple process is out the window and you're unfortunately looking at a full-blown probate process. 

If you have some time on your hands and you're not intimidated by judicial forms and some paper-pushing then you can probably tackle a "small" probate process on your own without legal help.  Otherwise, it probably makes financial sense to simply hire an experienced probate attorney who can wrap up the process as quickly as possible.

DISCLAIMER: This blog does not offer legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.  If you need legal advice, consult with a lawyer instead of a blog.