How to Settle a Connecticut Decedent's Small Estate

Up close image of a woman going over small estate paperwork with her elderly mother at home.

Not every person’s estate needs an extensive probate process. Small estates can often be settled through an expedited process that helps families access their loved one’s assets sooner. Understanding when and how to settle a Connecticut decedent small estate using this expedited process can help your family save time, money, and frustration after a loved one’s death.

What Qualifies as a Small Estate?

In Connecticut, a small estate is any deceased person’s estate that has a combined probate estate value of less than $40,000, and does not include any real estate owned solely by the decedent (person who died). The value of the estate is calculated based on the date of death, and ignores any debts still owed at the time.

However, it is important to remember that only probated assets apply. That means, when calculating whether your loved one had a small estate, you should exclude:

  • Jointly held property with rights of survivorship
  • Community property with rights of survivorship
  • Savings bonds with multiple owners
  • Payable on death or transfer on death accounts
  • Retirement accounts with designated beneficiaries
  • Life insurance policies (unless the estate is the beneficiary)
  • Vehicles registered in a transfer-on-death form
  • Real estate subject to a transfer-on-death deed
  • Low-value household items
  • Assets held in a trust

If the remaining assets are worth less than $40,000 it may qualify as a small estate.

The Benefits of Using Connecticut’s Small Estate Process

If your loved one’s assets qualify, you can avoid starting formal probate proceedings entirely. Instead, you can opt for a simplified probate process. There is still work to be done establishing the estate’s value, liquidating assets, paying off final debts, and distributing assets to the deceased’s heirs. However, Connecticut’s small estate process can substantially reduce the time, effort, and cost of resolving your loved one’s estate. That means that you and your family members can gain access to your loved one’s assets sooner, sometimes in as little as 30 days.

Steps to Settle a Connecticut Decedent’s Small Estate

File an Affidavit in Lieu of Probate

Connecticut’s small estate process begins by completing and filing an Affidavit in Lieu of Probate of Will / Administration form. It can be filed by the deceased’s:

  • Surviving spouse
  • Next of kin (if no surviving spouse)
  • Anyone else with an interest in the estate (if no surviving spouse or kin willing to file)

The form lays out the details related to:

  • Your loved one’s identity
  • Date of death
  • The existence or non-existence of a will
  • The deceased’s assets at the time of death
  • Final expenses and debts (including state and federal taxes)

There is a second form that is not part of the public record, that you can use to provide the court with confidential personal information, like the deceased’s social security number. These files should be filed, along with a certified Death Certificate in the county where your loved one lived at the time of their death.

Request an Order of Distribution

In many small estates, a person’s final expenses exceed their assets. However, if you believe there will be money left over after you pay off your loved one’s debts (remember that not all debts survive beyond a person’s death), you will also need to file a Request for Order of Distribution. This form is filed at the same time as the Affidavit in Lieu of Probate and states:

  • Names and addresses of heirs including the surviving spouse, children, grandchildren, and surviving parents or siblings (and their descendants)
  • Beneficiaries listed in any will
  • Whether a will exists (if so all heirs must waive their right to receive assets under the will)
  • A waiver of any claim for reimbursement from the estate for final expenses listed on the Affidavit in Lieu of Probate

Once received, the Connecticut probate court will validate your submission. This generally takes 30 days. You will then receive an Order of Distribution, directing you to pay the estate’s debts and distribute the remaining assets.

File the Estate’s Final Tax Return

While you are waiting for the small estate process to conclude, you should work with an accountant to prepare and file the estate’s final tax return. This may require waiting until after the first of the next year. However, by beginning the process soon after you file the small estate affidavit package you can avoid unnecessary delays and be prepared for any taxes the beneficiaries may have to pay.

Liquidate Assets

You can use the Order of Distribution to gain access to and possession of all your loved one’s assets. This allows you to withdraw money from bank accounts, sell personal property and vehicles, and take any other necessary actions to liquidate the estate. There is nothing requiring you to sell all the assets (unless you need the funds to pay off the estate’s claims). However, you should determine the fair market value of any property you retain.

Pay Off the Deceased’s Final Expenses

With the Order of Distribution in hand, you are ready to pay:

  • The deceased’s funeral and burial expenses
  • Costs and attorney fees related to the administration of the estate
  • Medical bills related to the decedent’s last illness
  • Debts owed at the time of death
  • Reimbursement for any expenses or claims paid from other, non-probate assets or by any family member

Not all debts can be collected after a person dies. It is wise to review all the creditors to an estate with an estate administration attorney before you begin to pay off the family debts.

Distribute Remaining Assets to Heirs

The Order of Distribution will tell you exactly who should get what value. Remember that there are certain family entitlements a deceased’s surviving spouse and dependent children may be able to claim that take priority over certain debts. Be certain to read the Order of Distribution carefully to make sure each person receives the correct assets.

Get Help with Connecticut’s Small Estate Process

Just because Connecticut’s small estate process is simpler than formal probate doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. Working with an estate administration attorney can ensure the paperwork is completed properly and on time, removing any obstacles between you and your loved one’s assets.

The estate planning attorneys at Lawrence & Jurkiewicz, LLC represent clients in Hartford and Litchfield Counties. Attorney Edward Jurkiewicz has decades of experience helping individuals and families plan for their future. He can help you take advantage of Connecticut’s small estate process to resolve your loved one’s estate sooner. Please call us at (860) 264-1551 or contact us at your convenience to start resolving your loved one’s estate today.

Related Articles

Categories: Estate Planning