Estate Planning

Wills

For us, an inquiry about a Will is the start of a conversation.

 

We all know that a Will is a plan for the disposition of property at death.   You’ll want to decide how your property is to be distributed. We’ll go through a number of scenarios to develop a contingency plan should any of your intended beneficiaries predecease you.  We’ll talk about what to do if any of the beneficiaries are too young or otherwise incapable of handling their finances.

 

A Will can name several people to fill various roles at death. These fiduciaries may include executors, guardians, trustees, and conservators. We’ll discuss the nature of each of these roles with you.

 

You’ll find that our conversation will extend into a discussion of lifetime issues, such as the appointment of somebody to speak for you should you become ill. We’ll deal with the pros and cons of Powers of Attorney and help you to make wise decisions in this area.

 

We consider ourselves estate planners. For us, hearing that a client wants a Will is a little like hearing somebody walk into a hardware store and say they want to buy a tool.   We need to understand your specific needs and values before anything can be “built.”

 

Give us a call if you’d like to begin this discussion with us.

Trusts

Few legal terms are as intimidating and confusing as the term "trusts." Clients come to us having heard from third parties that everyone should have a trust and that without one, a person is negligent in their financial planning.

 

First of all, the basic idea of a trust is rather simple. It is a legal relationship in which one party transfers title of property to another, on the condition that it is used for the benefit of a third party. If you give money to your favorite college to fund scholarships for needy students–that's a trust. A trust is just one of many tools available to estate planners.

 

There are many types of trusts, and they can be used for many purposes. Here are a few examples:

 

1. Avoidance of probate

2. Assistance in managing property

3. Privacy and efficiency in transferring property at death

4. Protection for minors or those incapable of managing money on their own.

 

As we've said elsewhere in this website, we consider ourselves to be estate planners, and a trust is only one tool that we use to develop an effective plan for our clients.

Elder Law

Elder law is actually a new term in the practice of law. Obviously, older persons. have many of the same legal problems as anyone else. It is only recently that it has been recognized that they also have unique issues.

 

As a person ages, it is more likely that he/she will lose a degree of mental and physical ability. Often, they will need assistance with their legal affairs. This can be done quickly and easily by means of a Power of Attorney. Unfortunately, no area of the law has generated as much family discord, ill will and even litigation as the use ( and misuse) of a Power of Attorney. If you are considering executing a POA or exercising rights under a POA in your favor, you'll want to consult with a lawyer to fully understand your rights and responsibilities. Gone are the days of a preprinted, fill in the blanks form. You'll want a Power of Attorney drafted to your specific needs.

 

We see many situations in which the capacity of an elder person making legal decisions is challenged. Often times this is done by family members who have a good faith belief that they are preventing a relative from making poor decisions. This type of conflict can cause deep rifts in the family.

 

Elder law involves assisting clients in dealing with a variety of government programs, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

 

Finally, and sadly, we are often confronted with elder clients who are the victims of fraud, neglect, or abuse. When necessary, we'll take appropriate action to protect our clients.

 

A number of our attorneys practice Elder Law. In Middletown, the person to call is Elizabeth Byrne, who focuses her practice entirely on this area of the law. In our Old Saybrook office, the first point of contact should be Howard Gould, a member of the National Association of Elder Lawyers of America.

Title 19

We routinely meet with clients who worry that their lifetime savings may be lost in the event of long-term health failure. They may have medical insurance but understand that this will not cover the cost of a nursing home. The rules in this area of the law are extremely technical.

 

Even the basic terminology is confusing. Medicaid, commonly called Title 19, is a program authorized by Federal law but implemented by the individual states. Connecticut's program is run by the Department of Social Services and differs from the programs offered in other states.

 

Unlike Medicare, which is available to all persons over age 65, Medicaid is available only to persons with limited resources. Problems arise when a person attempts to "qualify" for Medicaid by transferring assets. There are substantial penalties associated with transfers of this type.

 

Not only can an expert in this area of the law help you avoid problems, but he or she can also help legally re-arrange your finances to maximum advantage. For example, there are ce1tain types of property which the government will not "count" as an asset for the purpose of qualifying for Medicaid. It is entirely legal to convert countable assets into noncountable assets.

 

This is not an area for the do it yourselfer, nor is it a topic where useful advice can be obtained from a neighbor or friend's experience. Medicaid law is highly detailed and requires the assistance of a skilled expert. Your first call should be to Attorney Elizabeth Byrne of our office who has chosen to focus the majority of her practice on this area of the law.

Estate Administration

Times have changed when it comes to estate administration. You may think of the process as the implementation of instructions from a Will. Now, there are a variety of procedures for distributing property. Some assets pass by survivorship. Others, such as life insurance and retirement plans, may pass to the beneficiary named on the plan. Assets which do pass under a Will are supervised by the Probate Court.

 

Our role in a decedent's estate file depends on the client's wishes. Some clients do a majority of the "leg work" on their own, feeling that they don't need the services of an attorney to pay the last Mastercard bill or file a life insurance claim. In those estates we do just those tasks better left to an attorney, coordinating with the client to avoid duplication of effort. There are other files in which the client prefers not to have involvement in any aspect of the estate process, entrusting the entire matter to us. We are increasingly finding that where there are a number of beneficiaries, some families find that it is reassuring to have a professional handle the management of the estate process.

 

As with so many of our areas of practice, clients come to us at a time when they are experiencing significant personal trauma/loss. We'll keep that in mind as we help you navigate the requirements for administering an estate.

Conservatorship

A conservatorship is a proceeding in which the Probate Court appoints one person to handle the personal and/or financial affairs of another. In recent years there has been a growing appreciation for the loss of personal autonomy which occurs when a person is deemed incapable. Probate Courts now tailor conservatorships on a case by case basis to create the least restrictive set of conditions.

 

Conservatorship proceedings can be extremely difficult and contentious. Even when there is no dispute, a conservator may need assistance in meeting the court's requirements for documentation and financial accounting.

 

Part of our estate planning practice is devoted to addressing the issues should there be a future need for a conservatorship. Often a well-drafted Power of Attorney will avoid the need for a conservatorship. If intervention is necessary, it is possible to name or identify the person you would like to act on your behalf. It is also possible to enter into a voluntary conservatorship relationship, which is much less restrictive.

 

Our lawyers handle a variety of conservatorship matters. Sometimes our services are as basic as consulting with a client on conservatorship related issues. Other cases involve contested issues requiring litigation skills. As you can appreciate, the personal impact of having a loved one require this type of judicial intervention only adds to challenges experienced by our clients. We are here to help.

POA And Advanced Directives

At the risk of being overly blunt, it is our experience that the biggest concern among our estate planning clients is not planning for death. It is planning for the consequences of a major health setback.

 

One of the most important tools for personal and financial management is the Power of Attorney. There was a time when this was a “cookie-cutter” form used primarily for a client who was out of town when a legal transaction took place.  No longer, Powers of Attorney are a primary means for managing affairs of another over a long period of time.  Each POA is customized for our clients to meet their anticipated future needs.

 

There are a variety of other documents which can help clients make sure their wishes are fulfilled. These fall under the general heading of “Advance Directives.”   You may be familiar with the concept of a Living Will—a statement of intentions regarding end of life matters. We also suggest appointing a Health Care Agent for other medical concerns.

 

At FGSB, we understand that these are difficult issues to discuss.  We’ll take the time to meet with you and understand your specific concerns. The documents we execute will be tailored to your individual circumstances.

FGSB

Farrell, Geenty, Sheeley & Boccalatte • All Rights Reserved • 2019

 

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