In a recent case before the Superior Court of Connecticut, a named beneficiary of a will filed an appeal to reverse a probate court order that authorized the conservator of his benefactor to transfer all her assets into trusts. The conservator brought a motion to dismiss the appeal based on lack of standing. The court held that the named beneficiary had standing to file his appeal and denied the motion to dismiss.
In January 2008, the probate court appointed John Nugent (“Nugent”) as the conservator of the person and the estate of Josephine Smoron. In April 2009, the Nugent applied to the probate court to approve the creation and funding of a revocable trust and an irrevocable trust for Ms. Smoron. At the time of the May 2009 probate court hearing, Samuel Manzo (“Manzo”) was a named beneficiary under Ms. Smoron’s will. The probate court approved Nugent’s application and authorized the creation and funding of the two trusts; however, the hearing was held without providing notice to Manzo or other named beneficiaries of Ms. Smoron’s will. Nugent, in his capacity as conservator, established and funded the trusts by quitclaiming real property owned by Ms. Smoron to the irrevocable trust and by depositing over $218,000 of her assets to the revocable trust. Pursuant to the terms of the trusts, upon Ms. Smoron’s death, the proceeds were to be distributed to three churches, with no provisions for the beneficiaries named under will. In June 2009, Ms. Smoron died.
Nugent argued that Manzo’s appeal of the probate orders authorizing the creation and funding of Ms. Smoron’s trusts must be dismissed because Manzo was a “mere prospective heir” under Ms. Smoron’s will and, therefore, lacked a sufficient legal interest to challenge the rulings of the probate court. However, in the instant case, the Superior Court found it to be a provable fact that Manzo was a beneficiary of Ms. Smoron’s will rather than a prospective heir.
Connecticut law specifically requires the probate court to hold a hearing and provide notice to “all parties who may have an interest” in the estate before authorizing a conservator to transfer his conserved person’s property. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 45a-655(e). The same law further provides that the probate court should also consider the provisions of an existing estate plan before authorizing the conservator to make transfers of income or principal from the estate of the conserved person. The Superior Court found that, as a named beneficiary under Ms. Smoron’s will at the time of the May 2009 order, Manzo had both an interest in the estate and an interest in ensuring that the probate court considered Ms. Smoron’s will as part of the existing estate plan. Therefore, Manzo should have received notice of the probate court hearing.
Therefore, the Superior Court held that, as a named beneficiary under the will, Manzo was aggrieved by the May 2009 probate court order, should it be permitted to stand. Pursuant to that order, Nugent not only placed Ms. Smoron’s assets in the trusts, but he also designated three churches as beneficiaries of the trusts upon Ms. Smoron’s death. The court characterized these actions as effectively disinheriting Manzo and nullifying any provisions that had been made for him under Ms. Smoron’s will. Based these facts, the trial court determined that Manzo was a proper party to invoke the jurisdiction of the court.
The Superior Court denied Nugent’s motion to dismiss and permitted Manzo to go forward in the Superior Court of Connecticut with his appeal of the probate court orders authorizing the creation and funding of trusts for Ms. Smoron’s estate.
Should you have any questions relating to wills, trusts, estate planning 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.
Manzo v. Nugent, X04HHDCV105035142S, 2012 WL 1959076 (Conn. Super. Ct. May 8, 2012)