What to Include in a Connecticut Will
May 26th, 2023
When Connecticut residents come to estate planning attorneys, they often ask what to include in their will. A last will and testament is fully customizable to meet your needs, but there are certain provisions that you generally need to include. Here is a checklist of items you can include in your Connecticut will, so you can be prepared when you meet with your estate planning attorney.
Do You Need a Will?
If you feel like you have been putting off writing your will, don’t worry, you’re not alone. It can be hard for Connecticut residents, especially those who are young, healthy, and busy living their lives, to think about what will happen when they die.
Estate planning isn’t just for those with large assets. Almost anyone can benefit from taking the time to write a will. It may be time to consider preparing an estate plan if you:
- Are over 18 years old (children can’t sign wills)
- Have children or dependents you care for
- Have been diagnosed with a chronic condition or degenerative disease
- Own a home or other property
- Have savings accounts, investments, or other financial assets (including cryptocurrency)
- Have a pet you expect to outlive you
That is a broad list that covers most Connecticut residents. In fact, it’s almost never too early for an adult to begin thinking about their end-of-life choices. After all, a life-changing accident or natural disaster may make that estate plan necessary sooner than you think.
What Can a Last Will and Testament Do for You?
Whenever a resident dies, the Connecticut probate court oversees the payment of that person’s final debts and the distribution of their assets. This happens whether you have a will or not. However, without a will, your assets will automatically be distributed according to the state’s laws of intestate succession. Generally speaking, these laws leave all your property to your closest relatives, starting with your surviving spouse and children, and then moving to parents, grandchildren, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, and so on. If the court can’t find any relatives to give your property to, your assets will be transferred to the state.
However, you aren’t required to apply intestate succession to your property. A last will and testament allows you to tailor your estate plan to direct who (or what organizations) should receive your property, as well as who you want to be in charge of handling your affairs. A will is especially important if you:
- Don’t have close family in the state
- Have “fictive kin” or friends who you want to leave property to, but aren’t related to you
- Want to give legacy gifts to non-profit organizations or religious institutions
- Need to control who receives what portions of your estate
- Have specific gifts like heirlooms you want passed on
- Want to disinherit a close family member
Common Things to Include in a Connecticut Will
In general, your will should designate who you want to receive which of your assets, and who you want to be in charge of distributing them. A well-written Connecticut Will generally includes:
Your “executor” is the person who will be named the personal representative of your estate after you are gone. Think of them like a financial manager or overseer for your estate. They have the authority to talk to banks, creditors, and other institutions involved in your financial affairs. They also have the duty to inventory everything you have, complete the Connecticut probate process, and distribute your assets to your beneficiaries. The executor designation nominates one or more people (as alternates) that you believe will be up to the task. It is wise to choose someone you expect will live longer than you, who is good with money or has special expertise, and who will not be easily overcome with emotion.
Determination of Beneficiaries
Next, you will need to designate who you want to receive your assets. You can do this one of two ways:
- List individual names of people or organizations
- Describe people by category (i.e. “to my children…”)
You can designate different beneficiaries for each gift (“bequest” if personal property, “devise” if real estate) in your will. It is a good idea to name at least one “residuary beneficiary” to receive everything else after all your specific gifts have been made. That way nothing falls through the cracks and ends up in the hands of the state through a process called “escheat”.
Bequests and Devises
Once you know who you want to give your assets to, you can decide how to divide them up. You can divide assets evenly, or set out specific percentages or assets you want to pass to each beneficiary. Your attorney will make sure the wording of each bequest or devise is clear, to avoid any confusion. A common example of a bequest of personal property which should be made specific is an heirloom that might have particular significance for a son, daughter, or other relative. It is not necessary, however, to itemize every twig of your personal property, however. This usually passes to heirs under the “residuary clause” of the will. If real estate is owned jointly in survivorship it will pass outside the will, but it is still necessary to devise real property in case, for example, you are predeceased by your spouse.
Funeral and Burial Provisions
In addition to distributing your estate, your will can also direct what you want done with your remains after death. Funeral and burial provisions can provide guidance to your loved ones in the days immediately following your death, controlling things like where your body will be buried, if you will be cremated, and what specific rituals you would like included in your funeral or memorial services. Or you can direct a simple service. Although such provisions can be included in a will, some people prefer not to, to give their family more discretion.
Why a Will Isn’t Enough on its Own
It is worth noting that your last will and testament is the centerpiece of your estate plan, but it won’t do everything you need on its own. Your will does not become effective until you pass. That means it doesn’t apply to decisions related to your end-of-life care. If you become unable to handle your own affairs due to illness, senility, or even mobility issues, you will need other tools in your estate planning toolbox to address those concerns. In addition to your will, your estate plan may need to include:
- Living will - directing your choices for end-of-life care
- Healthcare advocate designations - authorizing a loved one to make medical decisions for you
- Power of attorney - authorizing a loved one to make financial decisions for you
- HIPAA releases - authorizing your doctors to talk to your healthcare advocate
- Revocable Living Trust - an alternative or supplement to a last will and testament that controls your assets after your death, in order to simplify the process of administering your estate (sometimes thought of as “avoiding probate”.)
Each of these documents serves a specific purpose within the estate plan. Be sure to discuss your needs and goals with your estate planning attorney to make sure all the necessary documents are included, along with your will.
Connect with Connecticut Will Preparation Attorney
Your will and testament and other estate planning documents make certain that your wishes are honored in your final days and after you pass away. Thinking about what to include in your Connecticut will now will help you plan for your and your family’s future and provide you peace of mind. The estate planning attorneys at Lawrence & Jurkiewicz, LLC represent clients in Hartford and Litchfield Counties. Please call us at (860) 264-1551 or contact us at your convenience to discuss your estate plan and prepare your last will and testament.