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Unclaimed Property In Connecticut

Unclaimed Property in Connecticut
Domenick N. Calabrese, Judge
Connecticut Probate District 22

When people think of probate, images of long delays, legal wrangling by expensive attorneys and uncertainty for those involved sometimes come to mind.  Every year in the United States, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent for estate planning services designed to avoid probate.

So why are there probate courts?  One of the functions of our probate courts in Connecticut is to protect people’s rights:  the rights of children and parents; the rights of adults who are intellectually challenged and those incapable of caring for themselves; and the rights of those who benefit from trusts.  When someone who owns assets passes away, the probate process is designed to protect the rights of beneficiaries (those named in a will to receive assets of the person who passed away), heirs (those who would receive the assets of the deceased person when there is no will) and creditors of the deceased. Among the rights that probate courts protect are rights of the lawful owners of assets such as real estate, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, automobiles, jewelry and other valuables.

In Connecticut, when assets such as bank accounts, stocks, bonds and other valuables have gone unclaimed for several years, the State Treasurer may hold them as “unclaimed property” until they are claimed by their rightful owners.  Relatives of deceased property owners whose names appear on the State Treasurer’s unclaimed property list are sometimes directed to get a “probate certificate” so the State of Connecticut can transfer the asset to the rightful owner. When a probate court is asked to issue the probate certificate so unclaimed property can be claimed, those making the request are sometimes displeased to learn that issuing a probate certificate requires the court’s careful review, which takes time.  Why can’t the court just issue the probate certificate and be done with it?

Let’s take a look at a fictitious situation illustrating what might happen if the State Treasurer didn’t require a probate certificate.

John Smith, a widower with three adult children, passed away 8 years ago. In his will, John left all the assets he owned equally to his three surviving children: John Jr., Elaine and Mary.  Elaine had a falling out with her brother and sister many years before their father died, and she has not spoken with them since then. Mr. Smith’s estate was probated, each of his three children received their inheritance, Mr. Smith’s creditors were paid, and the estate was closed.  Now, seven years later, Elaine searched the State Treasurer’s database, and found that her father was the owner of 100 shares of stock currently worth over $100,000.  No one, including the probate court, knew about this stock when Elaine’s father died. 

If the State Treasurer did not require a probate certificate to verify the rightful owner of the late Mr. Smith’s stocks, it might simply turn all the unclaimed stock over to Elaine.  By law, the rightful owners of the stock are Elaine and her two siblings equally, as directed in Mr. Smith’s will.

By requiring the probate certificate, the State Treasurer is ensuring that the stock goes to the lawful owners. Before issuing the probate certificate, the probate court will see to it that the rightful owners - John Jr. and Mary, as well as Elaine - each get their fair share of their late father’s stock currently held by the State of Connecticut, protecting each of Mr. Smith’s children’s rights in the stock.

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be, nor should it be relied upon, for legal advice. Readers should retain the services of competent legal counsel for advice as to your particular situation.

Copyright ©2009 Domenick N. Calabrese. All rights reserved. 
 

 

 

 

  The focus of the probate court is to provide friendly, responsive service to all. 
However, Connecticut law prohibits probate court staff from giving legal advice.
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