Town Diary - March 2001
A couple of days with Curt Case - Judge of Probate
If you haven't already had business for the probate judge, it is a good bet that sooner or later you will pay a visit to Curt Case's office at the Barkhamsted Town Hall. It may be for a pleasant reason, such as the passport you need for that trip to Tahiti, or for a reason such as estate matters for a deceased relative.
Curt has been the Barkhamsted probate judge since a special election held on April 3, 1990, which he won by receiving 346 votes out of a total of 604 cast. Since then, Curt has been re-elected in three uncontested races. The probate judge serves a 4-year term.
Photo- Barkhamsted Probate Judge Curt Case,- March 28, 2001
What does the probate judge do? Well, over two typical days in March 2001, here is what Curt did:
At the start of the day, a couple of investigators came in to talk to Curt about an active case that was going through the legal system. Curt helped provide public information that was on file regarding inventory items in an estate connected to the case. Later, Curt spent time finishing the paperwork for the establishment of an estate for a person that had died without a will. On this same matter he had previously conducted a hearing and appointed the administrator for the estate. Now he documented that appointment and prepared fiduciary certificates giving that administrator the authority to transfer assets. In addition he notified the State Department of Revenue Services of the creation of the estate and the administrator's appointment. Curt finished the day by writing up the legal notice that will appear in the newspaper. This notice tells creditors that the estate has been opened and where they can send information on outstanding debts for the deceased.
The next day, Curt started off by meeting with two Barkhamsted residents who wanted passports (you don't have to be a town resident to get a passport from Curt- he will provide this service for anyone). Not all probate courts issue passports- it is left up to the individual court. Curt issued a total of nine passports in the month of March 2001.
After the passports, Curt opened an item from the mail. It was the final paperwork from an estate administrator informing him that all work on an estate had been completed and that the estate should be closed. Curt reviewed the estate accounting and other paperwork to make sure it was in order and then prepared for the hearing scheduled for tomorrow. He had previously scheduled the hearing and had contacted all those impacted by the closing of this estate. It is very common for the hearing to go unattended, but Curt must be prepared nonetheless.
Later that day a person dropped by to file an affidavit regarding the will of his deceased relative. The assets were less than $20,000 and included no real estate, so the procedure to transfer the assets was simple and quick.
Then Curt wrapped up some routine tasks, including the processing of four checks he had received for the passports issued earlier. The probate court collects a fee of $60 (for those over age 16) for each passport issued. Of this fee, the probate court keeps $15 and $45 is sent to the US State Department. Passports are good for 10 years (5 years for those younger than age 16).
These two days are a fairly typical snapshot of the routine for the probate judge. Official court hours are 10:00 to 1:00 on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and by appointment. Curt normally spends about 15 to 18 hours a week on his duties. From Curt's perspective, the job is like a part-time, self-employed business. The town is required only to provide a suitable location (usually in the town hall) and some basic supplies. Curt's salary and other expenses are not paid by the town or state but by the fees paid by his customers. If no one comes through the door, then nothing is collected, and his salary for the job suffers.
Fees collected for probate services are set by State statutes and are the same for all probate courts in Connecticut. The State pays nothing toward the probate system, but it does collect a portion of the probate fees to cover the cost to administer the probate system. A small town such as Barkhamsted will not have sufficient activity to warrant a judge devoting full time to the position. Perhaps 90% of the fees making up Curt's income are derived from estate matters- distribution of a person's property after death. Fees are charged on a sliding scale based on a percentage of the gross taxable estate.
In addition, fees are charged for other probate services (many of them a flat $150) such as the appointment of conservators (someone managing the affairs and/or finances of another person), guardianships (someone who manages the finances and/or affairs of a minor or the mentally retarded) and trustees (a person appointed to manage a trust). Depending on the situation in these appointments, Curt may be responsible to monitor events, receive and review accountings, set hearings and settle disputes. Other activities covered by the probate court include termination of parental rights, consideration and approval of adoptions, and approval of accounts of conservators, guardians, and testamentary trustees. The probate court is also empowered to grant a change of name.
Curt enjoys the work at the probate court and Barkhamsted is fortunate to have the resources of such a skilled and experienced Judge of Probate to assist residents through a variety of transitions in life.
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