Probate stamp on folderThis is the next post in a series of articles discussing the probate and estate administration process in Hartford, Connecticut. The previous post provided an overview of the key topics we will discuss in this series. It also stressed the importance of retaining experienced counsel to help navigate the process. This article will discuss the types of estates that are required to go through probate administration. Depending upon the overall value and types of assets owned by the decedent at the time of their death, Connecticut law may exclude or exempt some or all of the estate from the process. Your attorney can assist you in understanding the legal requirements with which you will be dealing. If you are involved in the administration of an estate, contact our office today to speak with a lawyer.

Connecticut excludes estates under a certain size from the full probate process. If the decedent’s solely-owned property is valued below $40,000 and does not include any real property, the estate may be eligible for the “small estates” exclusion. If so, the administration of the estate will be an abbreviated and simplified process known as an affidavit in lieu of probate. Other types of assets are excluded from the probate estate altogether. Property that is owned in “joint-tenancy” with another person will automatically pass to the surviving owner. This is often the case with homes owned and titled jointly between spouses. Certain types of personal property, such as life insurance policies or investment accounts, often require the owner to designate a beneficiary. These assets will pass directly to the designated person or persons without going through the probate process.

In addition, assets that are held in a living trust will not be considered part of the decedent’s probate estate. A living trust may be established during the lifetime of the deceased person as part of an overall estate plan. The trust documents will identify one or more trustees to manage the distribution of the assets following the decedent’s death. It will also set forth instructions to the trustees for when, how and to whom certain assets will pass to a person’s beneficiaries. A living trust can be an important tool in controlling what happens to your assets following your death and may result in avoiding the probate process entirely.

Suppose, for example, at the time Mrs. Smith passes away she solely owns her home valued at $150,000, has a joint checking account with her daughter, and various personal property valued at $45,000. Because the estate includes real property and is valued above $40,000 it would not be eligible for the abbreviated probate process. The checking account would pass directly to her daughter outside of probate, since it is held jointly. The remaining assets of the estate would, absent a living trust, be subject to the full probate process which enables the passing of these assets in accordance with Mrs. Smith’s will or the laws of intestacy if she had no will.  If, on the other hand, Mrs. Smith established a living trust prior to her death, her personal property and home (if appropriately titled in the name of the trust) would not be subject to probate. Instead, these items would pass to her beneficiaries according to her advance instructions contained in the trust document.

An experienced lawyer can help clarify the legal requirements that apply to an estate or help you develop an estate plan to manage your estate for the future. Our firm has over 50 years of experience in estate planning and probate administration in Hartford, Connecticut. Call us today to speak with a probate attorney. We also service the areas of Wethersfield, New Britain, Rocky Hill, East and West Hartford, Bristol, Glastonbury, and Manchester, as well as the Middlesex County cities of Middletown and Cromwell.