Expertise.com

Connecticut Inheritance Laws

Expertise.com Staff Profile Picture
Written By:

Looking at its GDP per capita of $85,609 and poverty rate of 9.7%, one can say that Connecticut is among the wealthiest states in the country. However, since no one can take their earthly possessions to the grave, the riches that well-off individuals leave behind can become a point of contention among the bereaved.

One way for individuals to prevent such conflicts from arising after their demise is to make a last will. This document alleviates some of the stress a deceased person’s loved ones may face, as the probate process for decedents without a will tends to be inconvenient. Essentially, a will facilitates a smoother transfer of assets to deserving beneficiaries.

Wills are covered under Connecticut’s inheritance laws, and the state’s probate courts resolve related conflicts. With that in mind, this article aims to inform readers of the respective consequences of having and not having a last will. It also covers pertinent topics, such as the probate process and the classification of assets.

What Happens if Someone Dies With a Will in Connecticut?

One of the advantages of having a last will is that it allows the testator or the person making the will to decide what will happen to their estate once they pass away. This process typically involves choosing the will's executor and dividing the assets between inheritors. However, a will must meet certain requirements to be considered valid.

  • Testator's age and mental capacity: The will’s author must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind at the time of writing.

  • Signatures: The will must be signed by the testator and witnessed by at least two independent individuals. These witnesses must sign the document after the testator in each other's presence.

  • Beneficiaries: The will must clearly identify at least one beneficiary to inherit the deceased's assets. Note that witnesses cannot be beneficiaries of the will. If a witness is named as a beneficiary, they may be disqualified from receiving any inheritance.

  • Format: The will must be typewritten or printed. Handwritten or oral wills are not recognized as valid in Connecticut. If such wills originate from another state, they must comply with the laws of that state to be admissible in local probate courts.

While Connecticut law allows wills to be valid without notarization, testators have the option of creating a self-proving will. This choice streamlines the probate process by removing the need to contact witnesses for verification.

Will Executor Duties

Basically, an executor is the individual in charge of carrying out the instructions specified in a will. In cases where the will names only one beneficiary, such as a child or a spouse, it is common for them to also take on the role of executor. However, a testator can ask lawyers, accountants, and trust companies to carry out their will instead.

It is important to choose a trustworthy executor since it is a role that comes with many responsibilities, such as:

  • Managing property upkeep until estate resolution: This ensures the deceased's property remains secure and maintained until the finalization of legal matters.

  • Hiring valuation professionals: Appraisers and valuation experts are essential in accurately determining the estate's value.

  • Fulfilling the will's instructions: The executor must faithfully execute the deceased's wishes as outlined in their will.

  • Organizing the testator's funeral: This includes handling arrangements and ensuring a respectful and dignified ceremony.

While an executor initially agrees to manage the distribution of the estate according to the will, they may later choose to withdraw from their responsibilities. In such cases, the court may intervene and appoint a new executor to ensure the testator's wishes are fulfilled. To avoid this situation, individuals should consider naming an alternate executor in their will.

Probate Process in Connecticut

Not all assets are subject to probate in Connecticut. However, a will may undergo probate if the decedent’s assets exceed $40,000 or if there are disputes among listed heirs or interested parties. The regular probate process, which can take up to six months or more, generally follows these steps:

  1. Filing a Petition for Petition/Administration or Probate of Will: This form, also known as PC-200, must be filed within 30 days of the testator's death with the local probate court, along with the original will and a certified death certificate. Missing this deadline may result in fines. Upon successful filing, the court will issue a fiduciary certificate to the executor. This serves as legal proof of their authority to handle the deceased's estate. If no will exists or the executor is unavailable, the court will appoint an administrator to manage the estate.

  2. Notification of relevant parties: A notice will be issued to all the named beneficiaries of the will or statutory heirs if there is no will. Potential creditors of the decedent will also be notified through local newspapers.

  3. Inventory of assets: The executor or administrator must catalog and appraise the decedent’s assets. Within two months of appointment, an inventory enumerating the decedent’s solely owned assets and their current value must be submitted to the court.

  4. Payment of debts and claims: The decedent’s financial obligations must be paid using the estate’s funds. Creditors are usually given five months from the appointment of the executor or administrator to present their claims. Once the five-month period elapses, a Return and List of Claims outlining the expenses and claims made against the estate must be submitted to the court.

  5. Filing of estate tax returns: Regardless of the estate’s size, the executor must file estate tax returns within six months of the testator’s date of death. If the estate is valued at $2 million or more, the executor must file a federal estate tax return within nine months.

  6. Final accounting and distribution of assets: An accounting report should detail the starting value of the inventory, all the expenses paid, and the proposed distribution of the remaining assets. Once this document has been filed, a hearing will address any objections before finalization.

Connecticut also offers simplified probate for small estates, provided their total value does not exceed $40,000. If this qualification is met, the inheritor must file an Affidavit in Lieu of Probate of Will/Administration. Simplified probate takes 30 days.

Classification of Assets

The table below summarizes which assets are subject to probate in Connecticut:

Asset Type

Subject to Probate?

Solely owned property

Yes

Jointly owned property (with right of survivorship)

No

Tenant-in-common property (with no right of survivorship)

Yes

Assets held in a trust

Depends on the trust's terms

Investments (mutual funds, bonds, stocks)

Yes, unless held in a designated beneficiary account

Retirement accounts (IRAs, 401(k)s)

No, if designated beneficiaries are named

Life insurance policies

No, if designated beneficiaries are named

Interests in partnerships or corporations

Yes, unless otherwise specified in the partnership or corporate agreement

Pay-on-death and transfer-on-death accounts

No, assets pass directly to designated beneficiaries

Contesting a Will in Connecticut

In Connecticut, certain parties may have a few reasons to contest a will. For instance, when the testator supposedly struggled with a mental condition when they drafted the will, their heirs or beneficiaries can legally question its validity. Other legal grounds for contesting a will include:

  • Coercion: The testator was pressured or coerced into creating the will, undermining their free will.

  • Fraudulent influence: The testator was deceived or misled when making or updating the will, resulting in an inaccurate representation of their intentions.

  • Forgery: The will was not actually made by the supposed testator.

  • Subsequent will: A more recent, valid will exists, superseding the contested one.

Time is of the essence when contesting a will. The estate remains open for a specific period after the testator’s passing, during which any objection must be filed. This period begins when the executor or beneficiary submits a petition to the probate court, which must happen within 30 days of the death.

The process begins with filing an "Objection of the Admission of the Will" form. This triggers a hearing where all parties can discuss the will's validity. If the court finds merit in the objection, a trial will be scheduled to decide the matter.

What Happens if Someone Dies Without a Will in Connecticut?

When a resident of Connecticut dies without a will, the state's intestacy laws determine how their assets are distributed. Intestacy laws primarily govern probate assets, which are those owned solely by the deceased and subject to the probate court's oversight. 

As previously shown, assets with co-owners or designated beneficiaries (e.g., retirement accounts and life insurance policies) are not subject to probate and are, therefore, unaffected by intestacy laws. However, if the mentioned parties have also passed away, the assets may be subject to intestate succession and distributed according to the state's rules.

Spousal Rights

The amount of property inherited by a surviving spouse in Connecticut depends on whether the decedent had living children, parents, or other close relatives. The inheritance of the spouse under various circumstances is summarized as follows: 

Surviving Relatives

Effect on the Inheritance

No other surviving relatives aside from the spouse

Spouse inherits everything

Common descendants and the spouse

Spouse inherits the first $100,000 of the estates, plus one-half of the remaining balance 

Common descendants inherit everything else

Descendants and the spouse but one or more of the descendants are not of the surviving spouse

Spouse inherits one-half of the total estates

Descendants inherit everything else

Parents and the spouse

Spouse inherits the first $100,000 of the estates, plus three-fourths of the remaining balance

Parents inherit the remaining properties

In Connecticut, probate courts have the authority to give financial support to the surviving spouse while the deceased individual's estate is being settled. The amount of this allowance is determined by the judge on a case-by-case basis.

Moreover, the court will uphold legally binding agreements made between spouses regarding the surviving spouse's inheritance share. This applies to contracts entered into before and after the marriage.

Children’s Rights

The size of each child’s intestate share generally depends on how many children the decedent left behind. However, various factors may determine whether they are eligible for intestate shares. Under Connecticut laws, the following descendants are entitled to an inheritance:

  • Biological children: They automatically inherit.

  • Adopted and posthumous children: They also inherit automatically.

  • Stepchildren: They only inherit if the decedent has no other living relatives. To inherit assets, they must be legally adopted.

  • Children born out of wedlock: They inherit if:

    • The decedent married their mother.

    • A court declared the decedent their father.

    • The decedent acknowledged paternity in writing under oath.

  • Grandchildren: They only inherit if their parent (the testator’s child) is deceased.

Children who have been legally adopted by another family do not qualify for an inheritance.

The Rights of Other Surviving Relatives

In the absence of a surviving spouse or children, inheritance laws dictate a specific order for the distribution of the deceased's estate. This ensures that assets are passed on to intended beneficiaries fairly and predictably.

  1. Parents: If the deceased individual leaves no surviving spouse or children, their parents inherit their estate. This applies regardless of the latter’s age or financial status.

  2. Siblings: In the event that there are no living parents, the inheritance passes to the deceased's siblings. This includes both full siblings and half-siblings, sharing the estate equally.

  3. Next of kin: If the deceased has no surviving parents or siblings, the inheritance then goes to their next of kin. This can include grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins, with the specific order and allocation depending on the individual's family structure and relevant laws.

Since these are general guidelines, it is ideal to consult a lawyer to determine the rightful distribution of an individual's estate in specific circumstances.

Estates With No Heirs

When someone in Connecticut passes away without leaving a will and no recognizable legal heirs are found, their entire estate becomes subject to the state's escheatment process. This essentially involves the state assuming ownership of all the deceased's assets, including property, belongings, and financial holdings.

Unique Situations in Connecticut Inheritance Law

International wills are recognized in Connecticut probate courts, provided they meet the specific guidelines outlined in the state's legal code. Additionally, eligible relatives for intestate succession will still inherit their share even if they are not U.S. citizens.

Relatives conceived before but born after the testator’s death remain eligible for intestate succession. The law does not also discriminate between half-blood and whole-blood relatives. However, relatives who have been found guilty of killing another relative shall be barred from receiving an inheritance.

Does Connecticut Impose Inheritance and Estate Taxes?

While Connecticut avoids imposing an inheritance tax, it still enforces its own estate tax, distinct from the federal system. This tax applies not only to residents but also to any individual owning property within the state, regardless of their primary residence.

As of 2023, the Connecticut estate tax exemption mirrors the federal threshold, sitting comfortably at $12.92 million. Estates exceeding this amount are subject to a flat tax rate of 12%. Keep in mind that while the standard filing deadline for the estate tax is six months, an additional six-month extension may be requested.

Resources Related to Inheritance Law in Connecticut

Overall, compounded with the complexities of probate, resolving inheritance disputes can be an ordeal for individuals. As they look for a probate lawyer to take on their case, the following resources can further their understanding of the asset distribution process and may even offer legal aid.

Connecticut Probate Courts

The official website of the Connecticut Probate Courts offers a convenient platform for accessing critical information and services. Users can verify court locations, connect with court personnel, access user guides, electronically submit documents, review case details, and download necessary forms.

Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut

Statewide Legal Services is a legal aid advice and referral center that helps low-income individuals in Connecticut. It handles cases involving wills, health care directives, Social Security, and family law. One can reach them through their toll-free number, 1-800-453-3320, which is available on weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Hartford and Middletown residents can also call (860) 344-0380.

Connecticut Legal Services

Connecticut Legal Services caters to low-income individuals and families in over 120 communities. It helps senior citizens with end-of-life planning, which includes durable powers of attorney, health care directives, and wills. CLS also fights against unfair evictions and helps find affordable housing for individuals who may have been displaced by will disputes.

Connecticut Free Legal Answers

Connecticut Free Legal Answers is a virtual legal advice clinic that addresses a variety of civil legal inquiries. Its pro bono attorneys answer questions related to family, housing, and financial matters that may come up during the probate process.

Share

Expertise.com Staff Profile Picture

Expertise.com StaffAuthor

Step into the world of Expertise.com, your go-to hub for credible insights. We don't take accuracy lightly around here. Our squad of expert reviewers, each a maestro in their field, has given the green light to every single article you'll find. From rigorous fact-checking to meticulous evaluations of service providers, we've got it all covered. So feel free to dive in and explore. The information you'll uncover has been stamped with the seal of approval by our top-notch experts.