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Vermont Inheritance Laws

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In times of loss, knowing who will oversee your assets and properties is crucial. But what if the person you wish to entrust possessions to after your passing is someone you cannot trust with your life? Vermont’s inheritance laws address this question.

A person will lose their inheritance if found responsible for the death of the person from whom they are supposed to inherit. This law was likely applied in the case of a 28-year-old man in Vermont named Nathan Carman. 

Carman was charged with killing his grandfather and mother with the goal of obtaining money from a trust fund and inheriting millions of dollars. Because of these allegations, the family members of the victims petitioned the court to block Carman from receiving a $7 million inheritance.

Inheritance is a common source of dispute among family members. Whether a person dies with or without a will, conflicts may arise because of competing interests in the decedent’s estate assets. To prevent or address such issues, the law may identify the rights of heirs and the proper procedure for distributing the decedent’s assets.

Vermonters in the same situation as Nathan Carman and his family or individuals looking to protect their legacy can find helpful information in this article. It will provide an overview of Vermont’s inheritance laws, including the rights of the spouse, children, and other relatives.

What Happens if Someone Dies With a Will in Vermont?

A court-supervised proceeding known as probate is needed when someone dies with a will in Vermont. The will determines who will receive the remaining assets, real estate, or money of the decedent, while the probate process ensures the proper distribution of the properties of the departed loved ones as stated in their wills. 

Under 14 V.S.A. § 1, the key elements that make a will valid are:

  • Capacity: One must be at least 18 and be of sound mind to become a testator or create their own will. 

  • Witnesses: When signing a will, the testator must be in front of two witnesses. Executors or heirs specified in the will cannot be assigned as witnesses.

Getting legal services or hiring a lawyer is not a requirement for drafting a will but is recommended. This is to ensure that the will is written according to Vermont laws. Attorneys can also suggest what should and should not be included in a will.

The probate division verifies the legality of the will. The court supervises the will's administration, ensuring that the administrators follow the law, perform their duties, and respect and properly execute the decedent's final wishes. 

The terms “executor” and “administrator” in relation to the will refer to someone designated to manage the estate of a deceased person. The critical difference between the two terms is that if a person leaves a will, probate administers their wishes through the assigned executor. If they do not, the court appoints an administrator to manage the assets following the distribution laws.

The probate court manages different types of estates:

  • A testate estate is when someone leaves a will.

  • A small estate — one that is valued under $45,000 — is handled in a simpler process. 

  • An ancillary estate applies when a person living outside Vermont passes away but holds property within the state.

  • An intestate estate occurs when someone dies without leaving a will.

Duties of Executors and Administrators

Executors or administrators assigned by the testators in a will must fulfill different responsibilities. These include:

  • Verifying the estate’s assets.

  • Resolving and settling legitimate debts.

  • Allocating remaining assets to beneficiaries.

  • Submitting an inventory to the court within 30 days of being appointed.

  • Keeping track of the status by regularly filing reports with the court until the estate is finished. 

Executors may decline the appointment by notifying the court in writing if they cannot devote enough time and effort to the assignment. 

Contesting a Will

Anyone may contest or challenge a will in Vermont on certain grounds. However, a will contest is an intricate legal proceeding and is best discussed with a lawyer.  

Some of the grounds for contesting a will are:

  • The person who created the will was not of sound mind, was not competent to make the will, or was unaware of the implications of their conduct. 

  • The will contains details resulting from coercion or influence from another party and not the genuine intentions of the testator.

  • The will lacks the formalities required by law, such as signatures and witnesses. 

The probate procedure stops when a will is being contested to allow for legal action. If it is successful, the will is declared void, and the state’s intestate laws take effect. If the will contest fails, probate resumes, distributing the testator’s assets according to the instructions in the will.

What Happens if Someone Dies Without a Will in Vermont?

In Vermont, if someone dies without leaving a will, their remaining assets, properties, and money will be allocated following the state’s intestate estate law. The court will be responsible for the distribution of the assets if someone dies without drafting a legally binding will prior to death. Under this arrangement, only the close relatives of the deceased are eligible to inherit the assets from the estate. 

The intestate laws determine the estate distribution in accordance with the surviving relatives:

  • The children of the deceased inherit everything.

  • The surviving spouse inherits everything if there are no children from the marriage.

  • If the decedent leaves a spouse and children from another relationship, the spouse gets half of the property, and the children receive the remaining portion.

  • Parents inherit everything if there is neither a child nor a spouse. 

  • Siblings acquire all assets if there is no spouse, child, or parent. 

Spousal Rights

The surviving spouse inherits the entire estate if they are the lone heir or if all of the decedent’s surviving descendants are also the surviving spouse’s descendants. 

The surviving spouse may also inherit the following:

  • Household furniture from the estate of the deceased (14 V.S.A. § 312). If there is a dispute, the Superior Court’s Probate Division will decide which items will go to the spouse.

  • Boats, snowmobiles, and all-terrain vehicles owned by a person who died without a will (14 V.S.A. § 313). These properties will automatically go to the surviving spouse.

Children’s Rights

In Vermont, the law does not allow children under 18 to handle or manage any money or property they inherit. Until the person reaches adulthood, an adult is designated to supervise and handle the bequest on the child’s behalf. This adult, frequently referred to as a trustee or guardian, ensures that the child’s inheritance is managed appropriately and responsibly for their benefit now and in the future.

According to 14 V.S.A. § 317, the children of the deceased may get financial support from the estate until they turn 18. This action must be taken before payment of the decedent’s remaining debts, except in inheritance by will, where the testator gives specific instructions on the child’s allowance. Furthermore, even after the debts have been paid off, the children of the deceased may continue to receive maintenance allowance as per 14 V.S.A. § 318

As per Vermont's intestacy rules, a person must be legally acknowledged as the child of the deceased before they can inherit anything. It is important to note the following details concerning children’s succession rights in Vermont:

  • Adopted children have the same right to inherit an intestate share as biological children, according to 15A V.S.A. § 1-104.

  • Children who were placed for adoption or who have been legally adopted by another family cannot inherit from the estate. However, if the adoptive parent is the surviving spouse, the children will retain their inheritance rights as biological offspring of the deceased, per 15A V.S.A. § 1-105, 4-102.

  • Children born out of wedlock can inherit from the estate as long as the deceased’s paternity is proven under Vermont law, according to 14 V.S.A. § 315.

  • Posthumous children or surviving children who lived for at least 120 hours after birth will inherit from the estate, per 14 V.S.A. § 303.

  • Grandchildren may receive inheritance only if their parents—the son or daughter—die and are no longer able to collect their portion of the estate, per V.S.A. 14, § 314.

  • Stepchildren or foster kids who are not formally adopted will automatically not be entitled to any inheritance. 

The Rights of Other Surviving Relatives

In Vermont, if the decedent has no beneficiaries, such as children or a spouse, the estate will be distributed to other surviving relatives, such as:

The decedent’s parents

Assets and properties will be shared equally by both parents.

The decedent’s siblings

If there is more than one sibling, each will receive an equal share of the assets.

Maternal/paternal grandparents

Assets and possessions will be divided equally or go to the surviving one. If only one side has grandparents, all properties will go to them.

Nearest relatives

Assets are equally divided among the next of kin.

Estates With No Heirs

In Vermont, an intestate decedent’s property usually escheats or passes to the state if they leave no heirs. Escheats refer to a legal process allowing the government to seize ownership of the deceased's property without relatives or inheritors. This action, however, may be unusual, as the laws are intended to distribute the properties to people even slightly connected to the deceased. Escheat laws come into play only when no legal heirs are alive or can be located.

Unique Situations in Vermont  Inheritance Law

The vast canvas of Vermont’s inheritance law has led to a few unique situations:

Effects of Unlawful Killing to Inheritance

In Vermont, if a person is found criminally responsible for causing the death of someone, no portion of the estate can be given to them, according to 14 V.S.A. § 322. Any share of the convicted heir in the estate will automatically pass to the other beneficiaries or heirs specified in the will. This provision guarantees that any individual liable for the unlawful killing of the deceased won’t benefit from their estate. 

Half Relatives

A half-relative has a connection through one common parent. As stated in 14 V.S.A. § 331, half-blood relatives may still receive the same inheritance share as full-blood relatives.

Does Vermont Impose Inheritance and Estate Taxes?

Vermont has an estate tax but does not collect inheritance taxes. Estate taxes apply to the estates of both Vermont residents and nonresidents who hold assets or real estate in the state.

In accordance with the Vermont Department of Taxes, estates valued at less than $2.75 million are exempt from filing an estate tax return. Therefore, if the deceased's estate is worth more than this amount, the state will tax the excess at a fixed rate of 16%, and it will be due nine months after the owner passes away. 

When inheriting property from another state, there might also be taxes in effect, and it may also be necessary to process the filing of taxes. 

Resources Related to Inheritance Law in Vermont

Delving into the complexities of inheritance law in Vermont involves navigating a web of regulations and legalities. This article section serves as a compass for people who want to understand state inheritance laws further.

Community Legal Information Center

The Community Legal Information Center serves as a legal reference for the general public in Vermont. It provides access to legal research databases, hard copies of Vermont legal materials, and over 150 legal self-help books, as well as equipment like printers and scanners. In addition, it offers notary services and legal reference guidance from librarians. CLIC is run by Vermont Law & Graduate School personnel and librarians, with funding provided by a grant from the Vermont Department of Libraries. 

Contact Information
Address: 164 Chelsea St., South Royalton, VT 05068
Phone: (802) 831-1313
Email: clic@vermontlaw.edu

Legal Services Vermont

Legal Services Vermont is a nonprofit group that offers pro-bono legal services on civil matters to Vermonters facing financial insecurity or low-income individuals. Its staff interviews residents to learn about their cases and refers them to volunteer lawyers who practice in the area of law that relates to their concerns. Some of the legal matters they handle are probate, bankruptcy, and social security. The organization collaborates closely with Vermont Legal Aid, its partner agency. 

Contact Information
Address: 274 North Winooski Avenue, Burlington, VT 05401
Phone: 1-800-889-2047

ABA Free Legal Answers Vermont

ABA Free Legal Answers Vermont is a virtual legal clinic that provides advice on various civil matters. On its website, qualifying users may post questions that volunteer lawyers will answer at no cost. Some of the legal problems that the lawyers address are civil rights, family, custody, divorce, housing, financial, and juvenile law. ABA Free Legal Answers Vermont is a program under the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service. 

Phone: (800) 285-2221
International: +1(312) 988-5000
Email: Service@americanbar.org

Caroline Fund

Caroline Fund primarily offers help to women in need. It seeks to empower, support, and ensure women's safety in crises or emergencies. The funds are allocated for the needs of women and their families, such as legal assistance. To expand its mission, the organization created The Caroline Fund’s Legal, Educational, & Justice Center, which develops and promotes programs to educate people regarding the law. Caroline Fund was formed in 1998 to pay tribute to Caroline Baird Crichfield, who died on April 11, 1998, as a result of domestic abuse. 

Contact Information
Address: P.O. Box 8486, Burlington, VT 05402-8486
Phone: (802) 355-4968 or (802) 862-2001
Email: info@carolinefundvt.org or sandrabaird114@gmail.com

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