Probate FAQ’s: Frequently Asked Questions About Probate, Estates and Wills

Most people have very little involvement with probate procedures, wills or the distribution of estate assets. Although they may have received an inheritance, few actually get involved on a detailed level. So when it comes time to consider their own estate and will needs or are named as an executor of an estate, a lot of questions crop up. Below we answer some of the questions that our Connecticut probate attorneys most often hear.

What is an estate?

An estate is all of a person’s assets and personal property, including real estate, vehicles, financial accounts, investments and insurance benefits. All assets owned by an individual at the time of their death must go through probate, unless they are held in a trust (titled in the name of the trust) or are payable or transferable on death (see below).

What is a will and do I need one?

A will is a legal document in which a person, known as the testator, names the beneficiaries to receive any assets he or she owned at the time of his or her death. A will can assign particular assets to specific beneficiaries or assign each beneficiary a percentage of the total estate value. A will usually also names an executor of the estate who oversees distribution of the estate’s assets to the beneficiaries. You should have a last will and testament if you will leave any assets after your death that are not disposed of via trusts, aren't owned with rights of survivorship or aren't payable-on-death/transfer-on-death assets (see below).

What is probate?

Probate is the legal, court-supervised process of identifying, protecting and preserving assets (except those held in trust or that are payable or transferable on death) of a recently deceased individual; using those assets to pay debts and claims against the estate or decedent as well as any taxes owed; and distributing remaining assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries.

What is an executor?

An executor is a person assigned in a will to probate the will-maker’s estate, including preservation of the estate’s assets, settling estate debts, and distributing the estate’s assets to its beneficiaries. An executor must be approved by the Connecticut probate court in whose jurisdiction the will is being probated.

What is an administrator?

An administrator is appointed by a probate court to fulfill the duties of an executor when a recently deceased person did not leave a will or the will did not assign an executor. An administrator is also appointed in cases where the named executor declines the position or the executor is not approved by probate court.

What is a testate estate?

A testate estate is the estate of a recently deceased individual who left a valid will that can be used to probate an estate and determine how to distribute the estate’s assets to beneficiaries.

What is an intestate estate?

An intestate estate is the estate of a recently deceased individual who DID NOT leave a valid will so that distribution the estate’s assets is determined according to state intestate laws.

What is joint tenancy?

Joint tenancy is ownership of real estate by more than one person in which each owner owns an equal share. It is commonly used by married couples who own their home.

How does joint tenancy avoid probate?

When real estate is owned in joint tenancy with rights of survivorship and one of the owners dies, that owner’s share passes to the surviving owner(s) automatically without needing to go through probate. If the joint tenancy agreement does NOT include rights of survivorship, the deceased owner’s share will be distributed in probate.

What are Payable-On-Death and Transfer-On-Death assets?

Assets that have a beneficiary designated as part of the account/policy terms or title are known as Payable-On-Death/POD assets (for accounts and life insurance policies) or Transfer-On-Death/TOD assets (for real estate, vehicles & securities).

How do POD and TOD assets avoid probate?

POD and TOD assets pass directly to the beneficiary named on the account/policy terms or title and are not included in the probate process. They are, however, included in calculating estate taxes on an estate. If the named beneficiary does not survive the decedent or is the decedent’s estate, then the asset will pass through probate.

Who pays estate taxes?

Estate taxes are paid by the executor or administrator of an estate out of the estate’s assets. However, the federal government currently exempts the first $5.25 million of each estate from estate taxes, so only estates with value greater than $5.25 million will have to pay federal estate taxes. The state exemption for estate taxes is $2 million in Connecticut, so only Connecticut estates of value greater than $2 million must pay estate taxes at the state level.   However, every person who dies in Connecticut (or who dies owning Connecticut real estate) must file an estate tax return regardless of whether taxes will be due. 

Can I name more than one executor in my will?

Yes, you can. But doing so often creates as many or more problems than it solves, unless one of the executors is a probate attorney assigned to assist another executor. See our article titled “Should I Have More than One Executor for My Estate in Connecticut?” for more details.

Can a will be challenged in Connecticut?

Yes, a will can be challenged in Connecticut, but the challenger must show some evidence indicating the will is a fake or was executed incorrectly or other limited circumstances that would render the will invalid. A would-be beneficiary is unlikely to be able to successfully challenge a will just because they don’t agree with it.

Our Experienced Probate Attorneys Can Help Keep Your Estate Out of Probate or Assist with Probate of an Estate

If a recently deceased loved one left an estate that must go through probate, the assistance of an experienced Connecticut probate lawyer can help keep costs down, decrease confusion and frustration, and avoid costly errors. Call us today to make sure your loved one’s estate is handled correctly.

Of course, proper advance planning can keep an estate out of probate altogether. If you want to ensure your hard-earned assets benefit the people you intend and aren't consumed by probate costs, taxes and other expenses, the probate and estate planning attorneys at Weatherby & Associates, PC can show you how.

Call our Bloomfield, CT probate and estate planning attorneys toll free today: 888-822-8778.

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