Any law that applies to the property left when a person dies is termed estate law. Connecticut estate law, like that of other jurisdictions, sets up a court-supervised probate process through which a deceased's assets must generally pass before being distributed to his heirs. The law also allows probate avoidance in some cases, sets out a distribution plan for those who die without a will and prevents the disinheriting of a spouse. Connecticut also imposes estate taxes.
Connecticut law sets out several ways that you can transfer property to beneficiaries without going through probate. If you create a living trust and move property into it during your lifetime, these assets avoid probate after your death. Assets with named beneficiaries, like life insurance and retirement accounts, also avoid probate. Connecticut is one of a handful of states that allows you to register vehicles with transfer-on-death designations so they avoid probate as well. And if you hold title to real estate with another individual with rights of survivorship, the property transfers directly to that person upon your death by operation of law. If, at the time of your death, you don’t own real estate and the total value of your probate assets is $40,000 or less, your heirs need only file an affidavit to transfer the property.
If you die without a will, Connecticut estate law on intestate succession determines who inherits your property. In Connecticut, a surviving spouse receives your entire estate when you die if you leave neither parents nor descendants, i.e., children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren. If you have descendants, your spouse gets the first $100,000 and half the remainder of your estate, while the other half goes to your children, but only if your spouse is their other parent. If you have any descendants from another relationship, your spouse gets half your probate estate with your children receiving the rest. If you’re not married, your children get everything and if you have no children or spouse, your parents receive everything. Your parents won’t inherit from you if you have children. This order of succession continues to branch out to siblings and more distant relatives, but if the court can’t find even one single living relation, no matter how distant, your property goes to the state.
The Elective Share
Connecticut law doesn’t allow you to disinherit your spouse. If you leave a will that cuts her out, she can reject its terms and claim a statutory share of your estate instead. This applies only to your probate estate; a spouse is not entitled to assets that pass to others in some other way. She receives one-third of the estate remaining after your debts, taxes and the costs of estate administration are paid. But there’s a catch -- she gets only a life estate in this property, which means she has the right to use it for life, but can't leave it to beneficiaries in her own estate plan. When she dies, it reverts back to your estate to pass to your other beneficiaries.
Connecticut is one of several states that imposes an estate tax. If the value of your entire estate -- not just your probate estate -- is $2 million or more, it’s liable for these taxes. Calculating how much is a complicated equation, so whomever you name as executor to manage the estate will most likely need the help of a professional to sort through it. Federal estate taxes are due to the Internal Revenue Service if the value of your estate is $5,340,000 as of 2014.
- Nolo: Intestate Succession in Connecticut
- Connecticut Judicial Branch Law Libraries: Rights of Surviving Spouse (PDF)
- Connecticut Probate Courts: The Probate Court and You (PDF)
- Internal Revenue Service: Estate Tax
- State of Connecticut: Form CT-706 NT Instructions Connecticut Estate Tax Return (for Nontaxable Estates) (PDF)
- HG Legal Resources: Estate Planning -- Property That Does Not Pass Via a Will
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