Q: What are the basic documents key to a general estate plan?

A: Depending upon the individuals and their assets, a Will or a Living Trust is basic to the disposition of assets after death. This should be accompanied by a Durable Power of Attorney, or sometimes a Springing Power of attorney which only comes into being upon some occurrence, usually disability. Any good estate plan will also provide for a Living Will and Advance Health Care Directives.


Q: What is a Living Trust?

A: A Living Trust is a document in which a person states how assets are to be managed during his or her own life, and after death, and designates a successor to continue to manage or to distribute those assets in the event of his or her own incapacity or death. Typically, the document is revocable, meaning that the individual reserves the right to change its terms or cancel it while he or she is living and able to do so. It is important to understand that the document governs the lifetime management and disposition of any of the assets the person actually registers or transfers into the name of the trust.


Q: What is a Durable Power of Attorney?

A: The power of attorney enables a designated individual to take over the affairs of another person in the event of incapacity or absence. It is really an agency agreement by which the person who signs (the “principal”) grants powers and authority to a designee (the “agent” or “attorney-in-fact”). The durable power of attorney, which allows a competent adult to appoint individuals to manage his or her own affairs even after he or she becomes disabled, ill, or otherwise unable to manage his or her affairs, has become a key element in long-term care and estate planning.


Q: What is a Living Will?

A: Although the statutory terms may vary from state to state, most states recognize two different kinds of advance directives. An advance directive is a document outlining the patient’s wishes to be carried out in case of incapacity. One type, frequently, but not always called a living will, sets forth the patient’s treatment choices, including the possible withholding or removing of life-sustaining treatment in the event that the person is in a terminal condition or vegetative state, or some similar condition. The second type of advance directive may be called a health care proxy, or a durable power of attorney for health care. This type of directive appoints a surrogate to make health care decisions during the patient’s incapacity.


Q: Just what is Elder Law?

A: Elder Law clients are predominantly older, or the children of older parents seeking assistance with the elder’s legal problems. Many of the common legal problems of the elderly are shared by younger clients who may be disabled or poor enough to qualify for government assistance or are terminally ill. Elder law attorneys focus their practiced in a handful of areas. Those focus areas typically include long-term care planning, guardianship and conservatorship, advance medical directives and the more traditional trust and estate planning, Medicare, Medicaid and other government benefits, abuse, neglect, and exploitation issues, and a host of other practice areas.


Q: What is a Special Needs Trust?

A: There are two types of Special Needs Trust: Third-Party and Self-Settled Trusts, the distinction being the source of the funds. Some trusts are pooled trusts in which the assets of many trusts are combined for investment purposes. A Pooled Trust can be a Self-Settled Trust or a Third Party Trust. A Special Needs Trust, also known as a supplemental needs trust, is a trust that is used primarily to supplement, but not replace, any public benefits that the beneficiary may receive. Provided the statutory requirements to establish an SNT are satisfied, the assets transferred to an SNT will not create a period of ineligibility nor be treated as an available resource for public benefit eligibility purposes.


Q: Who typically can benefit from a Special Needs Trust?

A: Primarily an individual with a disability who is a recipient of public benefits such as SSI and Medicaid. Under the two statutory SNTs the Social Security definition of disability is required.


Q: What is the Probate Process?

A: Connecticut has a system for settling estates in local probate courts. Within 30 days of the date of death, and application is submitted asking for approval of the decedents Will and confirmation of the choice of Executor. In the event there is no Will, the application seeks appointment of an Administrator. The court sends notices to persons interested in the Estate, usually waiving an hearing on the admission of the Will unless requested otherwise. The probate court issues certificates of appointment which can be presented to banks and other financial institutions. The clerk of the court publishes a legal notice in the paper alerting creditors. The Executor or Administrator submits an Inventory of the decedents property using the fair market value as of date of death to the court. Next, the Executor files an Estate and Gift Tax Return in Connecticut, and in certain cases with the Internal Revenue Service. Lastly, prior to the estate being settled, the executor prepares a final accounting showing what happened to the estate such as payments of debts, taxes and distribution to beneficiaries.