Updated: Aug 15, 2018
A will is typically a formal set of written instructions that outline how a persons assets are to be distributed after their owner's death. A will that is created in Connecticut must be typed out and properly witnessed for it to be valid. Connecticut does not recognize wills that are handwritten. Handwritten wills are known as "holographic wills."
There are two types of assets that a will can distribute: real property and personal property. Real property is fixed or immovable property (usually buildings) or land. Personal property is everything else. Some types of property, like real property owned as joint tenants with right of survivorship, pass outside of a will by operation of law, meaning a person's will does not dictate who the property passes to upon that person's death.
If an individual dies without leaving a valid will or a will at all, they are deemed to have died "intestate." Ever state has their own rules that are used for the distribution of property when someone dies intestate. The limitation with these rules is that the rules might not accurately or completely reflect the actual wishes of the person who died. In addition, these rules could cause unnecessary taxes and expenses to be incurred, distribute property to people other than those who the decedent intended, delay the distribution of a decendent's assets, or could put a decedent's children in the care of a guardian that they believe would be unsuitable, just to name a few potential issues created by not having a valid will.
While a will can avoid many issues and can help an individual maintain control of how their assets are distributed after they die, it cannot help with certain estate planning issues. A will won't necessarily help with the following issues, where other estate planning tools can: 1) protecting your family's privacy because when an estate is settled (admitted into probate court), a will becomes a public document, meaning anyone has the right to see it; 2) if the value of your taxable assets is high enough and you have a spouse, unless your will is written to create appropriate trust(s) upon your death, some of your assets may be lost to estate taxes; 3) without a will, children under 18 years old will inherit assets at an age when they are not legally able to own them on their own, forcing the courts to become involved to determine who will be appointed as a "guardian of the estate" to oversee those assets until a competent minor turns 18, thereby creating delay and more expense; 4) without a will, young adults could inherit as early as the age of 18 when they might not be responsible and mature enough to properly take care of those assets; and 5) a will does not create a guardianship for your children should you become incapacitated and unable to take care of them, yet still be still alive.
Trusts can be useful tools that can be used to help with one or more of these issues. So are "Guardianships in Event of Incapacity." However, everyone's specific financial situation and family situation is different so this article just provides a broad overview of some estate planning options.
We all know how our estates are subject to change as the year's go by, how every family is different and how common it is today to have "blended" families. That's why when I draft estate planning documents I have my clients complete a survey with questions about assets, spouses, heirs, guardians, executors, etc. so I can assess their current family and financial situation. It is important to have an attorney draft estate planning documents because they can suggest and explain a variety of options now and discuss other considerations to keep in mind should the assets in an individual's estate change or their family situation change. I also recommend that an individual have an attorney review their estate planning documents every five years to ensure that the they still meet their current goals, objectives and needs. It is important to remember that estate planning documents can be modified and changed as long as an individual is still alive and has the mental capacity to make and understand the changes. I am happy to review someone's estate planning documents for free to explain what they do. Just contact my office to make an appointment. My office number is 860.295.1600 or via the contact form on this website.
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