By ROBERT A. SCALISE, JR.
In Connecticut, the Probate Courts handle a variety of matters including guardianships, emancipation and adoption of children, conservatorships, mental health commitments and guardianships of persons with intellectual disabilities. However, when most people think of “Probate” they think of the process that takes place after a person dies.
Probate is the process of administering and settling an estate after a person dies. The probate process includes the following steps:
FILING THE WILL AND PETITION AT THE PROBATE COURT IN ORDER TO BE APPOINTED EXECUTOR
In the absence of a will, heirs must petition the court to be appointed "administrator" of the estate.
MARSHALING, OR COLLECTING, THE ASSETS
This means that you have to find out everything the deceased owned. You need to file a list, known as an "inventory," with the probate court. It is generally best to consolidate all the estate funds to the extent possible. Bills and bequests should be paid from a single checking account, either one established by the executor or one set up by your attorney. It is extremely important that you can keep track of all expenditures.
PAYING BILLS AND TAXES
If a state or federal estate tax return is needed - generally if the estate exceeds $5 million in value - it must be filed within six months of the date of death. If you miss this deadline and the estate is taxable, severe penalties and interest may apply. If you do not have all the information available in time, you can file for an extension and pay your best estimate of the tax due.
FILING TAX RETURNS
You must also file a final income tax return for the decedent, and if the estate holds any assets and earns interest or dividends, an income tax return for the estate as well. If the estate does earn income during the administration process, it will have to obtain its own tax identification number in order to keep track of such earnings.
DISTRIBUTING PROPERTY TO THE HEIRS AND LEGATEES
Generally, executors do not pay out all of the estate assets until the period runs out for creditors to make claims. In Connecticut, the Claims Period is 150 days from the appointment of the Executor. Once the executor understands the estate and the likely claims, they can distribute most of the assets, retaining a reserve for unanticipated claims and the costs of closing out the estate.
FILING A FINAL ACCOUNT
The executor must file an account with the probate court listing any income to the estate since the date of death and all expenses and estate distributions. Once the court approves this final account, the executor can distribute whatever is left in the closing reserve and finish their work.
The entire probate process usually takes nine months to a year to complete. There can be circumstances when it can take longer, such as when there is real estate to sell, contested claims to settle or family disputes.
Robert A. Scalise, Jr. is a partner in the law firm Ericson, Scalise & Mangan, PC in New Britain