Estates and Trusts

Connecticut Supreme Court affirms order of Accounting for attorney-in-fact appointed under Durable Power of Attorney

In re Bachand, 306 Conn. 37 (2012)   

Lisa Charette, the plaintiff and attorney-in-fact for Mary E. Bachand, appealed from a Superior Court judgment upholding the decision of the Probate Court for the district of West Hartford.  The decision required the plaintiff to provide an accounting of her actions as attorney-in-fact for Ms. Bachand who executed a durable power of attorney.  Ms. Bachand had progressive Alzheimer’s disease and was relocated to a long-term care facility in West Hartford, CT.  The Superior Court ruled that the Probate Court had subject matter jurisdiction to order an accounting in accordance with Conn. Gen. Stat. § 45a-175 (b) because Ms. Bachand resided within the district of West Hartford.

On appeal, the plaintiff claimed the Superior Court improperly ruled that the Probate Court had subject matter jurisdiction to order the accounting under the circumstances and erroneously found that the defendant, Cheryl Miller-Gray, had standing to make an application for an accounting.

The Supreme Court held that Ms. Bachand’s lack of intent to reside in West Hartford was not relevant to the Probate Court’s jurisdiction. Under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 45a-175 (b), the term “resides” means the place where a person actually lives no matter whether they have the intention to remain there.  Further, the defendant had standing to proceed with an application for an accounting because she was the sole remaining successor attorney-in-fact pursuant to the durable power of attorney.  The defendant did not need to present evidence to establish cause for the accounting pursuant to Con. Gen. Stat. § 45a-175 (b).  Therefore, the judgment of the Superior Court was affirmed.

Connecticut Superior Court denies Prejudgment Remedy and declines to impose a Constructive Trust

Marinelli v. Estate of Marinelli, 2011 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1857 (2011)

The plaintiff, Michael Marinelli, brought an action against Joanne Marinelli, the executrix of the Estate of Anthony V. Marinelli, Jr. (the “Estate”) and the trustee of the Anthony V. Marinelli, Jr. Revocable Trust (the “Trust”).

The decedent, Anthony V. Marineeli, Jr., fraudulently induced the plaintiff, his brother, to believe that he would receive a 50% ownership interest in real property according to the plaintiff.  A family car repair business was operated on the real property in question and the plaintiff sought to impose a constructive trust.  The plaintiff filed an application for a prejudgment remedy against the Estate and the Trust pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-278d.

The Court held a hearing on the application and found there was an absence of probable cause to believe the plaintiff would prevail.   The plaintiff’s father clearly transferred title of the real property to the decedent who maintained the car repair business and assumed liability for all of its debts.

The evidence presented indicated that the plaintiff voluntarily relinquished his interest in the car repair business.  The apparent representations by his father and brother indicating that the plaintiff would be “taken care of” were imprecise assurances that did not persuade the Court.   There was no evidence of wrongdoing engaged in by the decedent.    As a result, the plaintiff’s application for a prejudgment remedy was denied.

Connecticut Appellate Court finds that Fiduciary should not have been removed as Executrix for Estate

Saccu’s Appeal from Probate, 97 Conn. App. 710, 905 A.2d 1285 (2006)  

The plaintiff and executrix, Jane Saccu, originally filed accountings with the Probate Court confirming that she utilized estate funds to make repairs to and pay property taxes for real property left to her by the decedent, her father, as a life estate.  The defendant and decedent’s son, Richard Barreta, objected to the accountings and sought to remove the executrix as a fiduciary for the Estate of Gicomo Barretta (the “Estate”).

The plaintiff was removed from her duties as executrix and compelled to reimburse the Estate pursuant to a Probate Court order.  The Probate Court found that the plaintiff had breached her fiduciary obligation when she utilized the estate funds for repairs and taxes. The plaintiff appealed the Probate Court order but the Superior Court entered judgment in favor of the defendant and dismissed the appeal.

On appeal to the Appellate Court, the plaintiff claimed that her removal as executrix was an abuse of discretion because there was no finding that she posed a continuing risk to the Estate if she continued in her duties as fiduciary.  The Appellate Court agreed and found, pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 45a-242, that the Plaintiff should not have been removed as the executrix because the specific finding had not been made.  The case was remanded with instructions to have the executrix reinstated and the judgment was reversed in part.

Spouse’s Testamentary Trust is Included When Determining Medicaid Eligibility for Long Term Care

Palomba-Bourke v. Dep’t of Soc. Services, CV116010448S, 2012 WL 2044788 (Conn. Super. Ct. May 10, 2012)

In a case before the Superior Court of Connecticut, a wife appealed the final decision of the Department of Social Services determining that her husband did not qualify for Title XIX (Medicaid) benefits to cover his long term care because the wife’s testamentary trust was considered an available asset.  The Superior Court determined that the wife’s testamentary trust was appropriately classified and dismissed the appeal.

The Case

In 1976, the wife’s first husband died and made her the beneficiary of a testamentary trust.  The provisions of the testamentary trust provide that the trustees will pay the wife during her lifetime “so much of the annual net income from the Residuary Trust and so much of the principal thereof as the Trustees in their sole discretion shall deem advisable for [her] more comfortable care, maintenance and support.”  The wife later remarried.

In 2009, her second husband entered a long term care facility and applied for Medicaid.  In June 2010, the Department of Social Services determined that the Community Spouse Protected Amount (CPSA) was $109,540. The CPSA included the principal value of the testamentary trust in its calculations because the trust was deemed by the Department of Social Service’s legal counsel to be a resource that was available to the wife.  Because the husband’s assets exceeded the allowable limit, the Department of Social Services denied his request for Medicaid.

Conclusions Made by the Department of Social Services

At the November 2010 administrative hearing on the denial of the husband’s Medicaid application, the Department of Social Services hearing officer made several conclusions of law.

First, he found that the wife and her husband were considered to be spouses as defined by the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act (MCCA) of 1998.  Second, this act provides that all the resources held by either spouse, or by both spouses, are considered available to the institutionalized spouse.  Third, effective June 2010, the wife’s assets were $514,977, which was the value of her testamentary trust.  Fourth, the Department of Social Services correctly determined the CPSA to be $109,560.  Fifth, the uniform policy manual (UPM) of the Department of Social Services provides that the assets of the spouse still living in the community in excess of the CPSA to be available to the institutional spouse.

Therefore, after allowing the wife her CPSA of $109,560, the Department of Social Services determined that $405,417 of her assets were available to her husband.  Sixth, the asset limit for Medicaid was $1,600.  Therefore, because the husband’s available assets of $407,417 were in excess of the $1,600 limit, the Department of Social Services was correct in denying the husband’s request for Medicaid.

The Appeal

On appeal to the Superior Court, the wife contended that the Department of Social Services illegally determined that the corpus of her testamentary trust was available to her husband because the trust was created before the effective date of the MCCA.  However, the court determined that the precedent cited by the wife in support of this argument was narrowly applicable a special type of self-created inter vivos trust that was affected by U.S. Congressional legislation purporting to close loopholes.  This precedent did not propose a general role that would restrict the applicability of the MCCA to the husband’s Medicaid eligibility determination.

The Superior Court re-iterated the general rule that a Medicaid applicant is subject to the federal and state statutes regarding assets that are in effect at the time of the institutionalization or application.  The MCCA rules for treatment of resources, 42 U.S.C. § 1396r-5(c)(2)(A), and the Connecticut implementation of federal law, UPM § 4025.67(A), both support this interpretation.  Both statutes require assets held either by the spouse living in the community or by the institutionalized spouse to be considered available to the institutionalized spouse for the purposes of Medicaid eligibility.

Furthermore, the legislative history of the MCCA regarding the attribution of resources requires “Any countable resources belonging to either or both spouses would be included in this determination, including resources from inheritance or previous marriages.” H.R. Rep. 100-05(II), at 70 (1998), reprinted in 1998 U.S.S.C.A.N. 893.

The Decision

Therefore, the Superior Court determined that the Department of Social Services appropriately deemed the wife’s testamentary trust to be an asset available to her institutionalized husband when determining his eligibility for Medicaid, and that the denial of the husband’s request for Medicaid was correct.  The wife’s appeal of the Department of Social Services determination was denied.

Accepting Funds from a Charitable Trust may Create a Contract that Cannot be Unilaterally Modified

Blumenthal v. Getraer, CV106007120S, 2011 WL 4953727 (Conn. Super. Ct. Oct. 4, 2011)

In a case before the Superior Court of Connecticut which found that a contract cannot be unilaterally modified, the Attorney General of the State of Connecticut brought a declaratory judgment action to represent the public interest in protecting gifts intended for charitable purposes, pursuant to Connecticut General Statute § 3-125.   The action posed four specific questions to the court regarding a charitable trust that was intended to honor a respected synagogue member and provide funds for capital improvements to the synagogue to which he belonged.

Case Background

In 2002, a respected member of the synagogue passed away, and was survived by his wife and son.  The following year, a charitable foundation in New York City gave the synagogue he attended a gift of $40,000, which was contingent upon the synagogue’s agreement to name its sanctuary after the deceased.  The gift and additional donations of over $100,000 were placed in a memorial fund, which was controlled by the widow and her son.

After receiving the gift, the synagogue erected a plaque over the entrance to the sanctuary declaring that it was named in honor of the deceased.  At the synagogue’s next board of directors meeting, the widow offered, on behalf of the memorial fund, to give the money in the fund to the synagogue with the restriction that it be used only for capital improvements and not ordinary expenses.  The widow and the son would act as the trustees of the fund and disburse monies for capital improvements at their absolute discretion.  The board of directors approved the arrangement.

The Dispute

A dispute later arose between the widow and her son, and the board of directors.  The widow and her son were dissatisfied because the memorial plaque was covered on several occasions so that it was not visible to people in the synagogue.  For example, during the 110th anniversary celebration of the synagogue, a sign announcing the name of the synagogue was placed over the memorial plaque.  During one Chanukah celebration, decorations were placed over the plaque and left there until July of the following year.

The board of directors was dissatisfied because the widow and her son stopped paying for capital improvements.  The board of directors that approved the arrangement with the widow and her son was dismissed and replaced with a new board.  This new board of directors voted to request the widow and her son to turn control of the fund over to the synagogue.

Court Finds Existence of a Contract

In an action seeking declaratory judgment, the sole function of the trial court is to ascertain the rights of the parties under existing law.  Ginsberg v. Post, 177 Conn. 610, 616 (1979).  Four specific questions were posed to the court to determine the rights of the trustees and the rights of the synagogue.

Prior to addressing these questions, the court found that a contract had been formed between the fund and the synagogue based on the synagogue’s acceptance of monies from the fund and other actions taken by the synagogue board of directors.  Therefore, the court found that the vote by the new board of directors had no legal significance because they could not unilaterally change the terms of the previous contract with the widow and her son.

Trial Outcome

Based on finding the existence of a contract, the court determined that the widow and her son were entitled to continue to control the fund and act as its trustees.  However, the court also found that equity required them, in their capacity as trustees, to reimburse the synagogue for the capital expenditures made in reasonable reliance on the agreement that the fund would pay for capital improvements.  The trustees had discretion to determine what constituted a capital improvement.

The fund was also required to continue to pay for capital improvements, on the condition that the memorial plaque was visible to all who would be able to see it.  The court ordered that the memorial plaque not be covered and, if it was, that would constitute a breach of contract on the part of the synagogue.  In that event, the widow and son would be free to terminate the trust and the fund, and either return the money to the donors or use it for other charitable purposes at their discretion.

Finally, the court suggested that the fund cease soliciting further donations and allow the remaining monies to be depleted to that the relationship between the parties could be terminated.

Should you have any questions relating to charitable trusts or other personal asset protection issues, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Susan Maya, at SMaya@Mayalaw.com or 203-221-3100, and Attorney Russell Sweeting, at RSweeting@Mayalaw.com or 203-221-3100, in the Maya Murphy office in Westport, Fairfield County, Connecticut.

CT Appellate Court Reverses Judgment Regarding Modification of Distribution of Estate

Silverstein v. Laschever, 113 Conn. App. 404, 970 A.2d 123 (2009)

The plaintiff, Morris Silverstein, appealed a Superior Court judgment upholding a Probate Court order confirming that mortgages be placed on land that is part of the Estate of Esther S. Silverstein (“Estate”). The order also allowed fees to be charged to the Estate.  The plaintiff claimed that the order to place mortgages on the Estate property was improper and that the fees charged to the Estate were the administrator’s personal obligations. The CT Appellate Court found that the Probate Court’s previous order for property distribution made eleven years before the order allowing for the mortgaging of the property had terminated the Estate. 

Therefore, the Probate Court did not have the authority to set aside, modify or revoke the previous order. The previous order, affirmed on appeal, bound the parties pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes § 45a-24.  The Probate Court could not modify its previous order that distributed the proceeds of the Estate to the heirs. 

A supplemental accounting did not give the Probate Court the authority to issue additional orders after the previous order of distribution, a final order.  Likewise, the fact that the administrator did not comply with the distribution order and failed to distribute the property did not cause the property to remain part of the Estate.  Accordingly, an order to mortgage the property was not proper.  As a result, the Appellate Court reversed the judgment and the case was remanded with direction to render judgment to the plaintiff.   

Connecticut Superior Court denies Prejudgment Remedy and declines to impose a Constructive Trust

Connecticut Superior Court denies Prejudgment Remedy and declines to impose a Constructive Trust
Marinelli v. Estate of Marinelli, 2011 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1857 (2011)

The plaintiff, Michael Marinelli, brought an action against Joanne Marinelli, the executrix of the Estate of Anthony V. Marinelli, Jr. (the “Estate”) and the trustee of the Anthony V. Marinelli, Jr. Revocable Trust (the “Trust”).  The decedent, Anthony V. Marineeli, Jr., fraudulently induced the plaintiff, his brother, to believe that he would receive a 50% ownership interest in real property according to the plaintiff.  A family car repair business was operated on the real property in question and the plaintiff sought to impose a constructive trust.  The plaintiff filed an application for a prejudgment remedy against the Estate and the Trust pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-278d.

The Court held a hearing on the application and found there was an absence of probable cause to believe the plaintiff would prevail.   The plaintiff’s father clearly transferred title of the real property to the decedent who maintained the car repair business and assumed liability for all of its debts.  The evidence presented indicated that the plaintiff voluntarily relinquished his interest in the car repair business.  The apparent representations by his father and brother indicating that the plaintiff would be “taken care of” were imprecise assurances that did not persuade the Court.   There was no evidence of wrongdoing engaged in by the decedent. As a result, the plaintiff’s application for a prejudgment remedy was denied.

Should you have any questions relating to wills, trusts, estates or probate issues generally, please feel free to contact Joseph C. Maya, a lawyer in the firm’s Westport, Connecticut office in Fairfield County by telephone at (203) 221-3100 or by e-mail at jmaya@mayalaw.com.

What is a Pre-Need Funeral Services Contract?

Pre-need Funeral Services Contract

A pre-need funeral services contract allows an individual to set aside funds, before his or her death, to be used specifically to pay for funeral expenses. Under the terms of such a contract, a “purchaser” signs the contract and advances funds, which are held in an escrow account for the purpose of paying for future funeral services for the “beneficiary” upon his or her demise. See C.G.S. §42-202. A pre-need funeral services contract may only be sold by a funeral director licensed by the public health commissioner. See C.G.S. §42-201.

Requirements

There are strict requirements for such contracts under Connecticut law. For example, funeral services contracts must be in writing, and must contain the following:

(1) The name, address, telephone number and Social Security number of the beneficiary and the purchaser;

(2) The name, address, telephone number and license number of the funeral director for the funeral service establishment providing the goods or services;

(3) A list of the selected goods or services, if any;

(4) The amount of funds paid or to be paid by the purchaser for such contract, the method of payment and a description of how such funds will be invested and how such investments are limited to those authorized pursuant to subsection (c) of section 42-202;

(5) A description of any price guarantees by the funeral service establishment or, if there are no such guarantees, a specific statement that the contract contains no guarantees on the price of the goods or services contained in the contract;

(6) The name and address of the escrow agent designated to hold the prepaid funeral services funds;

(7) A written representation, in clear and conspicuous type, that the purchaser should receive a notice from the escrow agent acknowledging receipt of the initial deposit not later than twenty-five days after receipt of such deposit by a licensed funeral director;

(8) A description of any fees to be paid from the escrow account to the escrow agent or any third party provider;

(9) A description of the ability of the purchaser or the beneficiary to cancel a revocable funeral service contract and the effect of cancelling such contract;

(10) For irrevocable contracts, a description of the ability of the beneficiary to transfer such contract to another funeral home; and

(11) The signature of the purchaser or authorized representative and the licensed funeral director of the funeral service establishment.

C.G.S. §42-200 + C.G.S. §42-202

See C.G.S. §42-200(b). A funeral services contract must also contain a statement that if the particular merchandise provided for in the contract is not available at the time of death, the funeral service establishment will furnish merchandise similar in style and at least equal in quality of material and workmanship to the merchandise provided for in the contract.  See C.G.S. §42-202(g). Funeral services contracts should not be confused with burial insurance policies, which are separately codified in the Connecticut General Statutes, under Section 38a-464.

For further information on pre-need funeral services contracts in Connecticut, see Chapter 743C of the Connecticut General Statutes. The General Statutes can be found online at: http://www.cga.ct.gov/. Additional information is available in the State of Connecticut’s Office of Legal Research Report on pre-need funeral services contracts online at: http://www.cga.ct.gov/2007/rpt/2007-R-0578.htm.

Should you have questions regarding pre-need funeral services contracts, contact managing partner Joseph C. Maya at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com for a free consultation. You may also contact the well practiced attorneys of Maya Murphy P.C. for any other inquiries regarding estates and trusts.

Connecticut Appellate Court finds that Incorrect Standard was applied for Testamentary Capacity to make a Will

Connecticut Appellate Court finds that Incorrect Standard was applied for Testamentary Capacity to make a Will
Deroy v. Estate of Baron, 136 Conn. App. 123, 43 A.2d 759 (2012)   

In a case involving testamentary capacity, Defendant Jeanne Baron appealed from the judgments of the Superior Court denying the admission of a will executed by her mother, Edith Baron, because of lack of capacity.  The Probate Court originally received two documents purporting to be the decedent’s will, one executed on February 12, 2002 and the other on July 3, 2002.   The will executed on July 3, 2002 was admitted by the Probate Court.  On appeal, the Superior Court concluded that Edith Baron was “incompetent” when she executed the will on July 3, 2002.

In reviewing the Superior Court decision, the Appellate Court found that the incorrect standard was applied for testamentary capacity.  The standard does not require the testator to be able to understand “complex” financial transactions.  Rather, the mental capacity necessary to make a will under Connecticut law is a lower standard.  An individual may have the capacity to make a will even if they are generally incapable of business transactions.

“To make a valid will, the testatrix must have had mind and memory sound enough to know and understand the business upon which she was engaged, that of the execution of a will, at the very time she executed it.” (Internal quotation marks omitted)  Sanzo’s Appeal from Probate, 133 Conn. App. 42, 50, 35 A. 3d 203 (2012); see also Atchison v. Lewis, 131 Conn. 218, 219-20, 38 A.2d 673 (1944).  The Appellate Court reversed the judgment of the Superior Court and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Should you have any questions relating to wills, trusts, estates or probate issues generally, please feel free to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, managing partner in the firm’s Westport, Connecticut office in Fairfield County by telephone at (203) 221-3100 or by e-mail at jmaya@mayalaw.com.

Larceny Convictions Reversed Where State Provided Insufficient Evidence of Property’s Value

Appellate Court of Connecticut

In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut reversed a defendant’s larceny-related convictions, agreeing that the State did not provide sufficient evidence to convict.

This case first arose from an incident that occurred on January 26, 2004. Police responded to a Cumberland Farms store that was broken into. They located a hole cut into the roof, as well as the store safe partially broken into: $446 was taken from the bottom drawer, but the top drawer was undisturbed. In addition, an ATM with $7,500 showed signs of an unsuccessful break-in. Police found burglar’s tools, a piece of paper with the defendant’s shoe print on it, as well as knit caps and a bandana.

Case Details

On February 29, 2004, police in a neighboring town responded to an alarm at a liquor store. When they arrived, they spotted a Nissan Altima speeding away. However, an officer permitted the vehicle to leave because his partner did not confirm whether or not a crime had been committed.

An investigation revealed a tampered alarm box as well as a hole cut through the roof, burglar’s tools, and a red knit cap. The suspected burglary was immediately reported, and officers pursued the Nissan Altima, which crossed into Massachusetts. Nonetheless, the vehicle was stopped and four men, including the defendant, were brought to state police barracks. There, a Connecticut state trooper seized the men’s clothing, including the sneakers the defendant was wearing.

The defendant was subsequently arrested and faced numerous charges, including attempt to commit larceny in the first degree and conspiracy to commit larceny in the first degree. At trial, the State presented evidence showing the amounts of money within the ATM and bottom drawer of the safe, totaling $7,946. In addition, a Cumberland Farms employee testified that the top draw had “a fair amount” of money within. However, the State did not present evidence that this “fair amount” exceeded $2,054, or that any other potential source of money was accessible to the defendant.

Nonetheless, the defendant was convicted following a jury trial and he appealed. He argued that the State presented insufficient evidence of the larceny charges because they did not prove that he “attempted to take, or conspired to take, property in excess of $10,000.” Therefore, he sought acquittal on these charges. The State countered that the proper course of action is conviction for second-degree larceny, which they argued was a lesser included offense.

Connecticut General Statute (CGS) § 53a-119

Under Connecticut General Statute (CGS) § 53a-119, larceny is defined in the following manner: “A person commits larceny when, with the intent to deprive another of property or to appropriate the same to himself or a third person, he wrongfully takes, obtains, or withholds such property from an owner.”

First-degree larceny is committed when the value of the property exceeds $10,000, while second-degree has a lower threshold value of $5,000. Conspiracy to commit larceny requires a showing of intent to deprive another’s property, plus wrongful conspired or attempted taking of such property. The Appellate Court of Connecticut has authority to simultaneously reverse convictions order entries of judgment for lesser-included offenses.

Court Decision 

In this case, the Appellate Court was persuaded by the defendant’s sufficiency of the evidence claim. It disagreed with the State that the jury reasonably inferred that a “fair amount” of money located in the top drawer exceeded $2,054, thus bringing the total value to $10,000 as required for first-degree larceny.

The Court further held that acquittal was the proper remedy. It explained, “Although it is true that there was evidence from which the jury might have concluded that the value of the property exceeded $5000, we do not know what evidence the jury accepted and what it rejected or how it reached the conclusion it did reach.” The Court would not speculate, and therefore reversed conviction on these counts with the direction to the lower court to enter findings of not guilty.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

When faced with a charge of larceny or conspiracy to commit larceny, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.