Steps in the Connecticut Probate Process
Step 1: File the Will and “Petition/Administration or Probate of Will,” Probate Court form PC-200, within 30 days of the decedent’s death.
A petition for administration or probate of Will should be submitted to the Probate Court within 30 days of the decedent’s death. It should be accompanied by the original Will and codicils, if any, and a certified copy of the death certificate. The petition must contain the names and addresses of all heirs (the decedent’s closest relatives) and beneficiaries (those parties who are named to receive assets under the Will). The petitioner must send copies of the petition and Will to each person listed on the petition and certify that the copies were provided. The copies may be sent by mail, fax, e-mail or via hand delivery.
A hearing on the petition may be held in Probate Court. The hearing is an opportunity for family members and other interested parties to ask questions or state their positions. There are three options for the hearing:
(1) The court may send notice to all parties informing them of the time and place of the hearing.
(2) If all those entitled to notice file written waivers of their right to notice and the court does not believe a hearing is necessary, then the court may enter a decree without a formal hearing and without the parties being present.
(3) The court may follow the “streamline” notice procedure, under which the court notifies all parties that they have the right to a hearing if requested by a specified date. If a party requests a hearing, the court will send notice and hold a hearing. If no hearing is requested, the court may, without the presence of the parties, issue a decree on or after the decree entry date specified in the notice.
The court formally appoints the executor named in the Will when the Will is admitted to probate. If the estate is intestate, the court appoints an administrator.
The court generally requires the executor or administrator to provide a probate bond and the court sets the amount. However, the court may dispense with the requirement of a bond if one of these conditions is met:
(1) The Will excuses bond.
(2) The assets of the estate are less than $20,000, or the amount of the estate that is not restricted by Probate Court order is less than $10,000.
(3) All heirs or beneficiaries waive the requirement of a bond.
Step 2: Take possession of the decedent’s property.
The first responsibility of the fiduciary is to gather the assets of the estate and place them under his or her control. For example, the fiduciary should transfer any bank accounts from the decedent’s name into an estate account. Stock certificates need not be registered in the name of the estate, although the transfer agents should be notified and instructed to send dividends in care of the fiduciary. Utility companies need to be notified of the decedent’s death and accounts that will remain open should be transferred to the estate. Any dwellings, seasonal homes, etc. should be secured, protected from the elements and insured.
Step 3: If the decedent owned real estate, file “Notice for Land Records/Appointment of Fiduciary,” PC-251, within two months of appointment as fiduciary.
The fiduciary must file a “Notice for Land Records/Appointment of Fiduciary” form with the town clerk in each town in Connecticut where real estate owned by the decedent is located. The form is obtained from the court.
Step 4: File “Inventory,” PC-440, within two months of appointment as fiduciary.
The fiduciary must file an inventory of the estate with the Probate Court within two months of appointment as fiduciary. In general, the inventory should list any property the decedent owned in his or her name, including real estate, bank accounts, stocks and bonds, motor vehicles, household furnishings and personal effects. It should include life insurance policies only if payable to the decedent’s estate. Partnership property and any property owned with other persons not in survivorship should also be listed.
The inventory should not include property held in such a way that it passes outside of probate, such as by joint survivorship or beneficiary designation or property held in a trust.
All property must be valued on the inventory at its fair market value at the time of death. It is the responsibility of the fiduciary to determine these values through inquiry and his or her own experience. The value of real estate may be determined in one of several ways, including:
(1) A written appraisal
(2) A comparative market analysis by a real estate agent
(3) The assessed value from the local tax assessor, adjusted to reflect 100 percent of the fair market value
(4) The actual sale price obtained in an arm’s-length transaction within six months following the decedent’s death
Itemized lists of valuable personal property, such as jewelry and antiques, should also be included. Household furnishings and personal items need not be itemized unless of particular value.
The fiduciary must send copies of the inventory to each party and attorney involved with the estate and must certify on the inventory that the copies have been provided. The copies may be sent by mail, fax, e-mail or via hand delivery.
Step 5: Obtain cash for estate administration as needed.
The fiduciary should anticipate the cash needs of the estate to pay for administration expenses, taxes, claims and bequests. He or she has the authority to convert into cash any personal property not specifically bequeathed but must obtain permission from the Probate Court to sell, mortgage or otherwise convey real estate, unless specifically authorized to do so under the terms of the Will. When personal property is to be sold, the fiduciary (if the fiduciary is not named in the Will as executor or is not a family member) must send a copy of the inventory to all interested parties, with a notice of intent to sell. The parties have the right to object to the sale within five (5) days of the receipt of the notice. (The court may waive this requirement if an expeditious sale is necessary.) The court will hold a hearing to determine the advisability of the requested sale. If parties interested in the estate do not want certain assets sold, cash may be advanced to the estate to pay estate obligations.
The surviving spouse or other dependent family members may apply to the Probate Court for a support allowance from the estate during the period of settlement of the estate. The form is “Application and Decree for Support Allowance,” PC-202.
The court may allow the surviving spouse or family of the decedent to use the decedent’s automobile while the estate is being settled, provided the decedent maintained the automobile as a family car. The fiduciary must ask the court in writing for permission to use the vehicle. The fiduciary need not register the vehicle until the expiration of the registration in force at the time of the decedent’s death.
Step 6: Follow statutory procedures for the payment of claims against the estate, and file “Return of Claims and List of Notified Creditors,” PC-237, at the required time.
“Claims” refer to debts incurred during the decedent’s lifetime and unpaid at the time of death. It is the fiduciary’s responsibility to determine the validity of any claims presented to him or her.
Within 14 days after the fiduciary’s appointment, the Probate Court will place a newspaper notice informing the estate’s creditors of the decedent’s death, the creditors’ obligations to present their claims promptly, the fiduciary’s name and the address where claims are to be presented. Creditors generally have at least 150 days to present their claims to the fiduciary. Please note that the 150-day period does not preclude later presentation of a claim. The period may be reduced using an optional procedure by which the fiduciary sends certified mail notice to any creditors informing them that they must present their claim by a specified date that is at least 90 days from the date of the notice and that their failure to do so will result in their claim being barred. The form to use is “Notice to Creditors to Present Claims,” PC-234.
The fiduciary must determine the legal validity of each claim and notify the creditor whether the claim is allowed or rejected, in whole or in part. If there is doubt regarding the validity of a claim, the fiduciary should seek legal assistance. Within 60 days after the end of the 150-day period, the fiduciary must file with the court a “Return of Claims and List of Notified Creditors,” PC-237, reporting all claims presented and the extent to which each was allowed or rejected.
A fiduciary who distributes estate assets in good faith after the expiration of the 150-day period will not be liable to creditors who present their claims following distribution. However, beneficiaries may be liable for legitimate claims properly brought after distribution.
The estate will also be responsible for paying some expenses that arise after the decedent’s death. Funeral expenses take priority over virtually all other expenses for which the estate is responsible. “Administration expenses” include statutory probate fees, attorney’s fees, fiduciary’s fees, the cost of legal notices and any expenses related to maintenance of the decedent’s property incurred after the decedent’s death. If the estate is insufficient to pay all proper expenses, some of them will take precedence over others. Before paying claims and expenses, the fiduciary should use care to determine that the estate is sufficient to pay them in their proper order of priority.
If the assets of the estate are not adequate to pay the debts, the estate may be settled as insolvent. The procedure for settling an insolvent estate is substantially different from that in a solvent estate and the fiduciary should obtain competent legal advice.
Step 7: File tax returns and pay applicable taxes.
Taxes payable as a result of death include the federal estate tax, which is reported to the federal government on federal Form 706, and the Connecticut estate and gift tax, which is reported to Connecticut on Form CT-706/709. Both estate taxes have provisions that exempt estates below established thresholds from taxation. Taxes may also be payable to other states in which the decedent owned property. In addition, a decedent may owe other taxes, such as income taxes and property taxes. The executor or administrator is responsible for filing necessary tax returns and paying taxes in connection with the estate. Fiduciaries must also report income received during estate administration.
Federal estate tax: An executor or administrator must file a federal estate tax return if the gross estate plus adjusted taxable gifts is more than the exemption amount. The exemption, which is indexed for inflation and adjusts annually, is $5.43 million in 2015. Federal estate taxation is complex and beyond the scope of this publication. If a federal estate tax return is required or if there is any doubt about whether such a return is required, professional advice is strongly recommended.
Connecticut estate and gift tax: For estates of decedents dying January 1, 2005 through December 31, 2009 and estates of decedents who have died on or after January 1, 2011, the Connecticut estate and gift tax applies to Connecticut taxable estates of more than $2 million. The term “Connecticut taxable estate” is highly technical. The calculation of the Connecticut taxable estate includes gifts made on or after January 1, 2005 but reduced by certain deductions, including amounts that pass to a surviving spouse.
Note: Even if no tax is due, the estate will still be required to file a Form CT-706 NT, the Connecticut estate tax return for nontaxable estates, and pay probate fees. The Connecticut estate tax is related to Probate Court fees, which are set by statute. The fee is based on the greater of the amount reported on the inventory, the gross estate or the Connecticut taxable estate for estate tax purposes. In most cases, the amount reported on the CT-706 NT or CT-706-709 is the basis for the formula used to calculate the probate fee.
Interest may be added to probate fees in some instances, including when the estate tax return is not filed by the due date. Interest is added to the probate fee at the rate of 0.5% per month beginning 30 days after the due date of the estate tax return.
Step 8: File final financial report or account, usually within 12 months of the decedent’s death.
Every executor or administrator must file a financial report or account with the court when the administration of the estate is complete or when the executor or administrator seeks to resign or is removed by the court.
In most cases, the simpler financial report, “Financial Report Decedent’s Estate,” PC-246, can be used. The more detailed accounting, “Decedent’s Estate Administration Account (Short Form),” PC-242, will be required in some instances, such as where the will establishes a trust under which the persons receiving the income of the trust differ from the persons who will receive the ultimate distribution of the principal. The statute also requires an accounting if the will establishes a life use in property, or if a surviving spouse elects to take the statutory share.
The fiduciary must provide copies of the financial report or account to each party and attorney involved with the estate and must certify on the document that the copies have been provided. The copies may be sent by mail, fax, e-mail or via hand delivery.
The Probate Court will hold a hearing on the financial report or account to allow the beneficiaries or any other interested party to ask questions about, or object to, the manner in which estate funds were managed.
Alternatively, the court may provide the parties with a “streamline” notice as explained in section 8.6 of the Probate Court Rules of Procedure. The notice will inform the parties of the right to a hearing on the matter if requested by a given date. In the absence of such a request, the court may proceed to approve the financial report or account.
If all parties interested in the estate sign a “Waiver of Right to Hearing Re: Financial Report,” PC-244A, or a “Waiver of Right to Hearing Re: Account,” PC-245, indicating that they have received and reviewed a copy of the final financial report or account and waive their right to a hearing, the court may waive the formal hearing and act on the report or account without the parties having to appear.
If the estate remains open for longer than one year, the executor or administrator must file a status update with the court. The “Status Update/Decedent’s Estate,” PC-286, should be filed within three months following the first anniversary of appointment and annually, thereafter, if no interim or final financial report or account has been filed. The update should include the approximate amount of any distributions made, the approximate amount remaining on hand and the reasons that administration has not been completed.
The executor or administrator must maintain complete records concerning the management of the estate. No financial records should be destroyed until the court has approved the final financial report or account and the appeal period has passed or any appeal is concluded.
Step 9: Distribute assets to beneficiaries.
A final financial report or account must report all distributions made to heirs or beneficiaries as well as distributions that are proposed to be made. When the court approves the final financial report or account, it will order the fiduciary to distribute the remaining assets of the estate according to the approved distribution.
Step 10: File “Affidavit of Closing of Estate,” PC-213.
The affidavit of closing is used to report receipts and disbursements that occur after the filing of the final financial report or account as well as the disposition of any reserve shown on the financial report or account.
If the court directs the fiduciary to file an affidavit of closing, he or she should file it within 30 days following the distribution of all assets. For all practical purposes, the filing of the affidavit is the executor’s or administrator’s final act as fiduciary.
If a probate bond was required, the court will send the surety company a certificate stating that the fiduciary has complied with all orders of the court relating to the settlement of the estate and terminating the probate bond.
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