Winding up an estate is a difficult task, one that can take a toll on the decedent’s family and loved ones. This process, however, is infinitely more challenging when the person dies intestate (without a will). Real property is particularly difficult to distribute without will. The various methods used in intestacy create tangled estates as families grow in complexity, and many conflicts might be resolved with a little estate planning.

In Connecticut, property passes through a system of intestacy that tries to distribute the property in a manner the deceased would have intended. First of all, a surviving spouse and no surviving children or parents, the spouse takes all of the estate.  If the deceased is survived by a spouse either children or parents, the spouse takes a variable share, plus some amount, depending on who else survives.   Connecticut General Statutes then set out the lines of descent, where property passes first to the children of the decedent and their descendants, then to the parents if there are no children, then to siblings if there are no parents, then to the surviving spouse, if there are no children, parents or siblings. The line continues from there to an ever-expanding array of kindred. This descent seems straightforward on paper, but in practice, the results can be impossibly complex.

Take, for example, a man with four children from a prior marriage who purchases a house with a a woman as tenants in common. They later marry, then he dies intestate. As tenants in common, each spouse is entitled to an equal share of the property, so the wife retains her share. The other share, however, passes through intestate succession. The wife receives then a right to half of the remaining half of the property as a surviving spouse, and the decedent’s children receive the other half. Suddenly, the wife owns a ¾ interest in the house, with the decedent’s children splitting a ¼ interest between them. If one of the children died before the decedent leaving three children, those children then split their parent’s 1/16th interest, each taking a 1/48th interest in the property. Is this really the result the decedent would have wanted?

One of the greatest gifts an owner of any kind of property can give her or his loved ones is a well-drafted estate plan. As demonstrated above, intestacy is a complex, messy and ultimately undesirable path that can put an already grieving family through another unpleasant experience.

It can be uncomfortable, it can be scary.  Sometimes the most important things we do in life are.  Call us to get started on planning today.

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