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When a person who owns property dies, the Probate Court becomes involved to oversee the division of property among those persons legally entitled to it. If the person, referred to as the "decedent," left a will, the division of property will be carried out according to the wishes of the decedent as set forth in the will. (The process of proving that a will is genuine and distributing the property in it is known as "probating" a will.) If the decedent did not leave a will, his or her property will be divided according to Connecticut's laws of "intestacy." In addition to overseeing the distribution of the estate, the Probate Court will ensure that any debts of the decedent, funeral expenses, and taxes are paid before distributing the remaining assets of the estate.
An estate must be opened if a decedent owned properties at the time of her death in her name alone or together with others, but not in survivorship. A court order is required to transfer this type of property to the proper party.
It is often advisable for the fiduciary to obtain professional assistance in connection with the administration of an estate. The Clerk of the Court or the Judge of Probate may provide limited assistance by helping an individual to complete required forms and reports. The Judge will be careful in the type of assistance given, since he or she may be called upon at a later time to adjudicate matters relating to the tax return, an account, or intermediate petitions. It is the fiduciary, however, who is primarily responsible for completing these forms and reports and for taking all the other steps necessary to settle the estate. A booklet entitled "Guidelines for Administration of Decedents' Estates" is available from the Court of Probate to assist fiduciaries.
Responsibilities such as preparation of tax returns and protecting unusual assets frequently require professional help.
A hearing at the Probate Court is an opportunity for all family members and other parties in interest to appear at the court to ask questions or to make certain that their views are known. The notice of a hearing should not be ignored if there are any questions on, or objections to, matters being heard. The law presently mandates at least one hearing on all probated estates. The hearing is usually held at the closing or acceptance of the final accounting by the executor or administrator, unless all parties sign and file with the Court a written waiver acknowledging that they have reviewed the final account and have given it their approval.
Unless all interested parties voluntarily sign a waiver, notice of the hearing is required at the time each estate is opened to pass upon the admission of the will to probate or for the appointment of an administrator. Other hearings may be necessary at intermediary stages of the proceedings, such as upon a request for an allowance for support of the surviving spouse or children or for the settlement of a doubtful or disputed claim or for the sale of real property.
Probate hearings are normally informal proceedings; however, unresolved or contested matters may require the taking of evidence at a hearing so that the Judge can make a proper determination of facts or law.