Thursday, June 13, 2024

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way


Probate Corner with Judge Max L. Rosenberg

Greetings Stratfordites and friends! I am Max L. Rosenberg, the Judge of Probate Court for Stratford, District 47.

In this installment, I want to discuss the risks of dying without a will. I have been asked on several occasions, how the artist formerly known as Prince could have died without leaving a will. This musical phenomenon, who was a virtuoso on no less than four instruments, and arguably a shrewd businessman, who unlike his contemporaries, took control of his musical catalog and copyrights, left no will? Why?

Reportedly, he hated lawyers. But increasingly, and unexpectedly, people are losing loved ones far too soon to COVID-19. Often, these events are surrounded by abrupt and hectic circumstances with little to no time to prepare or discuss intentions. Other notable people that have not left a Will (which resulted in expensive, time consuming wastes of resources with loved ones being left forgotten) are Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Amy Winehouse, and Sonny Bono. Stieg Larsson, the author of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo franchise, left no will and his lifelong partner of thirty-two years, Eva Gabrielsson, received nothing. (His family did grant her ownership of the couple’s apartment). If there is a lesson here, it’s to prepare early. Now is the time to get your estate planning house in order.

What is intestate or intestacy? This is the term we use regarding a deceased person and their estate when they have not left a Will. For some people, this may not seem too alarming, assuming they plan on dying with no assets or assuming they have left no loved ones behind. However, if you have assets and loved ones, it seems irresponsible not to leave considerate directions for when you are gone. In the news today, I was saddened to be reminded that Chadwick Boseman, Marvel Comics’ Black Panther, died at such a young age (43) and at the height of his career. I was sadder to read that he died intestate. Its no surprise or secret that people put off getting their Wills taken care of.

No one wants to contemplate their own mortality. The younger the person is, the less likely they believe it to be necessary. Mr. Boseman was 43, and while it does not seem he had any children, he left behind two parents and a wife, Taylor Simone Ledward. Ms. Ledward has now filed in Los Angeles Probate Court and requested for a judge to name her an administrator of her husband’s estate with limited authority. She listed the estimated value of the “Black Panther” star’s estate at $938,500.

You may be wondering what will happen with this estate as there are not clear directions from the decedent (deceased person). The state’s Intestate Succession laws or probate law will now dictate how Mr. Boseman’s money will devolve, to whom and in what proportions.

Under California law, when a person dies “intestate”, the spouse inherits all community property and splits the individual’s separate property with the parents. However, and more applicable to us, in Connecticut, the same situation would be differently handled. To wit: the spouse inherits the first $100,000 of your intestate property as well as three quarters (3/4) of the balance. The parents would inherit all the remaining intestate property.

So, while our state has a number of wonderfully crafted intestacy laws, I recommend not leaving something this important up to the court if you have options. Every adult should ask themselves the hard questions we normally avoid and prepare for the eventual inevitable. On a positive note, certain notable people did leave very specific directives in their Last Wills.

A few more interesting tid-bits in Connecticut intestacy law: If a person dies with no living relatives their property goes to the state. Pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 45a-439, If a person dies with half-siblings, they inherit as if you shared both parents. Also, relatives with immigration status issues inherit regardless of any legality as to their status. Babies born after, but conceived before a person’s death, inherit as though they were born before the person’s passing. And finally, pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 45a-447, if an heir is found guilty of murdering the relative, they lose their inheritance, and shall not profit from the killing. This is called the “Slayer Statute”.

Dusty Springfield, Alexander McQueen and Leona Helmsley left very generous, very specific provisions for their dogs and cats. William Shakespeare generously gave his “second-best bed, with the furniture” to his wife and his “broad silver-gilt bowl” to his daughter Judith and finally, a whole ten pounds to “the poor of Stratford,”. Even if it is just ten pounds, isn’t it nice to be remembered?


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