Property owned by your spouse must be collected and distributed to his heirs and beneficiaries after his death, in a process known as probate. If your spouse leaves a valid will, his property will pass according to his wishes after his debts are paid. If he did not leave a will, his property will pass according to a rigid set of state rules that prioritize heirs based on their relationship to him. Either way, as a surviving spouse, you have certain rights.
If your spouse dies with a valid will in Connecticut, someone must file it with the probate court in the county where he lived. She must do so within 30 days of his death. This is typically the duty of the person he named as executor in the will. The executor is charged with administering the estate through the probate process. If your spouse didn't leave a will, an application for appointment of an administrator must be filed with the court instead. The court will then appoint an administrator who serves the same role as an executor. The administrator is usually a close relative, such as the surviving spouse or an adult child.
As the surviving spouse, you can petition the court for a support allowance while the case is pending in probate. If you're not also the executor of your spouse's will, you'll need the executor's consent for this allowance. You are also generally allowed to drive your spouse's automobile, but you'll need the court's permission. The amount and length of the support amount is at the court's discretion, and can be awarded as a lump sum up front or be paid out periodically. Because these payments take priority over claims against the estate, a judge may be reluctant to order a large allowance if there are a lot of outstanding debts.
Determining the Estate
Before a court can determine how much you are entitled to based on a will or by law, your spouse's net estate must be calculated. This requires that the executor inventory all your spouse's assets and determine a value for each. Once this is complete, the court will publish a notice to your spouse's creditors in the newspaper. Creditors have 150 days to collect, or 90 days if the executor provides actual notice by certified mail. Before assets are distributed to a surviving spouse and other beneficiaries, all the deceased's debts must be paid: creditors, funeral expenses, legal fees, taxes and all other administrative costs.
After all your spouse's debts have been paid, his remaining assets may be distributed. As the surviving spouse, you are entitled by law to at least one-third of the value of any remaining property, even if his will specifies that you should receive less. Further, if your spouse dies without a will, you are entitled to all of the estate if he has no surviving parents or children. If he has surviving parents but no children, you are entitled to $100,000 plus three-quarters of the estate. If he has surviving children that are also your children, you are entitled to $100,000 plus half of the estate. If the surviving children are not also your children, you are entitled to half of the estate.
Wayne Thomas earned his J.D. from Penn State University and has been practicing law since 2008. He has experience writing about environmental topics, music and health, as well as legal issues. Since 2011, Thomas has also served as a contributing editor for the "Vermont Environmental Monitor."