Fiduciaries Part 3: Removal

In my previous article in this series on fiduciaries, I examined situations where a fiduciary (trustee, executor, administrator, guardian of the estate or conservator of the estate) may be removed. This article continues the discussion on removal of fiduciaries.

Connecticut law includes one more situation that may result in the removal of a fiduciary: where all the beneficiaries request that the fiduciary be removed, the court agrees it’s in the best interest of the beneficiaries to remove the fiduciary, and there is a suitable successor fiduciary available.

It’s also important in that situation to determine that removal of the fiduciary isn’t contrary to an important term of the will or trust. Sometimes, the person who creates a trust chooses a specific trustee or group of trustees for their expertise, maturity, or reliability. Perhaps the trust beneficiaries lack financial sophistication, have creditor issues or lack maturity. The purpose of the trust for those beneficiaries might be to provide a reliable income stream for a set period of time, usually many years.

However, the beneficiaries may “want their money now” and are unwilling to wait for the trustee to make distributions in accordance with the trust. A television commercial from a few years ago comes to mind; in it, people are yelling from their windows and front porches “It’s my money and I want it now!” In that case, there could well be conflict between the beneficiaries, who may want the trustee to make distributions to them, and the trustee, who is unwilling to make distributions in excess of what the trust allows.

Another example of a situation where this might happen is when the fiduciary doesn’t communicate with the beneficiaries, file documents with the court in a timely way, or make required distributions to the beneficiaries.

In addition to state law, a trust document usually includes provisions for when a trustee may be removed. Trusts and wills can be very complex; a fiduciary only has the authority to perform the tasks and responsibilities that are in the trust or will.

Likewise, how a trust may be managed is usually in the trust document. Whenever there is a question about a trust, the trust document should be the first place to look for guidance.

It’s common for the trust to create a mechanism for removal of a trustee. Such provisions are usually highly customized, depending on the purpose of the trust, the preferences of the trust’s creator, and requirements of federal and state law.

Anyone who is a fiduciary should consult with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney for guidance. As a probate judge for 15 years, I’ve seen fiduciaries create problems because they didn’t understand their responsibilities and acted contrary to the provisions of the trust, will or law. Nearly all of them chose not to retain an attorney to guide them.

Being a fiduciary is a serious responsibility, and it’s all too easy for well-meaning people to create problems because they failed to retain competent legal counsel. Breach of fiduciary duty can have serious financial consequences: fiduciaries have personal liability. In some cases, there can be criminal liability for breach of fiduciary duty.

THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO BE AND SHOULD NOT BE RELIED UPON AS LEGAL ADVICE. FOR ADVICE AS TO YOUR SPECIFIC SITUATION PLEASE CONSULT WITH A QUALIFIED ATTORNEY.

Copyright © 2017 Domenick N. Calabrese. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be disseminated, reproduced or used without the express written consent of the author.

For more articles and presentations by Dom Calabrese, visit his website at https://DCalLaw.com

Fiduciaries Part 2: Removal of Fiduciaries

In my first article on fiduciaries, I explained the role of executors and administrators in decedent’s estates. This next article in the Fiduciaries series examines situations that may require a court to remove a fiduciary under Connecticut law.

One such situation is where the fiduciary (trustee, executor, administrator, guardian, conservator or agent under a power of attorney) is no longer capable of performing their job, or simply stops doing what is required. There can be a number of reasons for this. Perhaps the fiduciary has a serious illness that prevents them from performing their fiduciary duties. Maybe the circumstances of the fiduciary have changed (caring for an ill family member, a change in jobs, moving to a distant state or even another country) that have made it difficult or impossible for the fiduciary to do their job. I’ve also seen situations where the fiduciary simply becomes unresponsive for unknown reasons and doesn’t communicate with the parties or the court. All of these may require the fiduciary to be removed and replaced.

Some trusts – notably but not exclusively irrevocable living trusts – commonly give one trustee the authority to replace the independent trustee.

Another reason why a fiduciary may be removed is if they waste the estate. Almost all fiduciaries are responsible for assets. There are many scenarios where a fiduciary could illegally waste the estate. For example, if they use some or all of the estate for their own enrichment, make poor investment decisions, fail to follow the requirements of the will or trust that governs the estate, or fail to properly safeguard the assets in their charge (perhaps they’ve failed to properly insure real property that subsequently is damaged or destroyed).

Failure to furnish a court-ordered bond is another reason for a fiduciary to be removed. A bond is similar to an insurance policy that protects heirs, beneficiaries and creditors of an estate. If the fiduciary wastes an estate for which there’s a bond, the parties may be made whole by the surety (usually the insurance company that issues the bond) for losses due to the fiduciary’s mismanagement.

Another situation where a fiduciary may be removed is where there are 2 or more fiduciaries, and they are not cooperating with each other. If the lack of cooperation “substantially impairs the administration of the estate” a court may remove one or more of the fiduciaries. Generally in such a situation, the conflict among the fiduciaries causes even the simplest fiduciary functions to take an unreasonably long time to the detriment of the parties and the estate.

In 15 years on the bench, I’ve seen a lot of conflict among parties who appear before me. It’s important that parties put their differences aside to get the work at hand done. This can be particularly challenging when the parties in conflict are fiduciaries. For that reason, Connecticut law recognizes the gravity of those situations and gives courts the ability to remove fiduciaries.

For more articles and presentations by Dom Calabrese, visit his website at https://www.DCalLaw.com

THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO BE AND SHOULD NOT BE RELIED UPON AS LEGAL ADVICE. FOR ADVICE AS TO YOUR SPECIFIC SITUATION PLEASE CONSULT WITH A QUALIFIED ATTORNEY.

Copyright © 2017 Domenick N. Calabrese. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be disseminated, reproduced or used without the express written consent of the author.

Fiduciaries Part 1: Executors

 

Fiduciary is a term used to describe someone who serves in a role where they must put the interests of another person or persons above their own. Examples of fiduciaries include executors, administrators, conservators, guardians, trustees, health care representatives, and agents under a power of attorney. Certain financial advisors may also be fiduciaries.

An executor is someone who is appointed by a court as a result of being named in a will. An executor is responsible for protecting the assets of the estate of the person who passed away. Executors are also responsible for administering the estate of the deceased person through the probate process.

Some people say that they are the executor of a living person’s estate. Such statements are incorrect. No one may be an executor until three things occur: first, they must be named in a valid will to be an executor; second, the person whose will names the executor must have died; and third, the will must be admitted to the probate court and the person named executor must be appointed by the court. Unless and until all those occur, there is no executor. Someone named as executor may decline to serve. In that case, another person must be appointed by the probate court to serve as executor (if the will names an alternate executor), or administrator (if not named in the will).

An administrator is someone who is appointed by a probate court when the person who died had no will, or when the person who died had a will, but the named executors in the will decline or are unbale to serve. An administrator only has authority that the probate court gives them. In contrast, an executor has the authority that the will gives him or her.

How do fiduciary duties apply to administrators and executors?

A fiduciary must perform their job. A fiduciary’s job always includes protecting the assets that are entrusted to their care. If the fiduciary wastes or mismanages the assets entrusted to them, they are subject to removal as well as surcharge (a court order to personally reimburse the estate for the loss).

The authority of a fiduciary is limited by a number of factors.

An executor’s authority is limited by the terms of the will under which they are appointed. If the executor needs to conduct an activity for which the will does not provide, then the executor must get permission from the court before they may carry out that activity. An example of this is where the decedent was the sole member of a limited liability company, and the business of the company needs to be wound up. While a will may provide authority for the executor to continue to conduct a business that the decedent owned, not all wills do so. An operating agreement of the company may also provide this authority, but, unfortunately, many limited liability companies don’t have operating agreements.

THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO BE AND SHOULD NOT BE RELIED UPON AS LEGAL ADVICE. FOR ADVICE AS TO YOUR SPECIFIC SITUATION PLEASE CONSULT WITH A QUALIFIED ATTORNEY.

Copyright © 2017 Domenick N. Calabrese. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be disseminated, reproduced or used without the express written consent of the author.

For more articles and presentations by Dom Calabrese, visit his website at DCalLaw.com

How To Choose the Right Attorney

One of the strengths of Connecticut Probate Courts is their informality and approachability. For most matters, parties may not need to retain an attorney to represent them. However, in certain cases, parties are at a disadvantage if they don’t have an attorney representing them.

When there is an application to appoint an administrator or executor for a decedent’s estate and the applicant does not have an attorney, I always have a hearing so I can discuss the case with the applicant. During those hearings, I recommend (but don’t require) that the applicant retain competent legal counsel. Frequently the applicant asks me to recommend an attorney.

As a Probate Judge, I don’t believe it’s ethical for me to “steer” parties to specific attorneys, so I never recommend a specific attorney. However, I also understand that choosing an attorney is something most people have little experience with, along with a great deal of trepidation.

In those situations, I suggest how to go about evaluating and choosing an attorney. My hope is that this empowers people to make informed decisions, minimizing the uncertainty and stress choosing an attorney sometimes causes.

This article outlines important factors in the process of evaluating attorneys, helping you make the best choice.

First and foremost, the attorney or attorneys you consider should be qualified. Qualification means two things: for matters in Connecticut Probate Courts, the attorney must be admitted to practice in Connecticut – a member of the Connecticut Bar in good standing.

In addition, an attorney should have significant experience in probate matters. Probate is a highly specialized area of the law; an attorney with little or no probate experience will not be as effective as a highly experienced probate attorney. I have occasionally dealt with attorneys who have no probate experience representing parties before me. Unless these inexperienced attorneys familiarize themselves with probate procedure, they are at a disadvantage in providing effective counsel for their clients.

Another important aspect to choosing an attorney is interpersonal chemistry. Before hiring an attorney, meet with them. Do you feel comfortable with the attorney? Are they able to explain things to you in a way that you understand? Are they approachable? If you retain them, who will perform most of the work on your case – the attorney you meet with? Another attorney? An inexperienced attorney right out of law school? A paralegal? A secretary? What is the firm’s policy for returning inquiries from clients? One of the most common reasons why clients file grievances against attorneys is failure of the attorney to return calls and communicate in a timely manner.

Clients have a right to know what’s going on and to be a part of the decision making process when it comes to substantive matters in their case. A prospective client should also know the attorney’s fees, rates and billing practices before committing to hiring the attorney.

Only with this information can you make the right choice.

THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO BE AND SHOULD NOT BE RELIED UPON AS LEGAL ADVICE. FOR ADVICE AS TO YOUR SPECIFIC SITUATION PLEASE CONSULT WITH A QUALIFIED ATTORNEY.

Copyright © 2017 Domenick N. Calabrese. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be disseminated, reproduced or used without the express written consent of the author.

For more articles and presentations by Dom Calabrese, visit his website at http://www.domcalabreselaw.com

Advantages of Living Trusts: Connecticut Estate Tax Planning

This last article in my series on the advantages of living trusts looks at how living trusts can be used in planning for Connecticut estate taxes. Connecticut estate taxes may be due after a Connecticut resident passes away. For Connecticut residents who passed away in 2011 until the present, there is a $2 million Connecticut estate tax exemption: the first $2 million of each Connecticut resident’s estate is exempt from Connecticut estate tax liability when that person dies.

However, between a married couple, the exemption is unlimited: any amount could be transferred to the surviving spouse upon the death of the first spouse with no Connecticut estate tax liability, even if the transfer to the surviving spouse exceeds $2 million. This unlimited spousal exemption comes at a price: when the first spouse dies, their $2 million exemption may be “lost” unless there is a plan to preserve it. A trust can be established to “save” the Connecticut estate tax exemption – $2 million – upon the death of the first spouse.

Let’s look at a simplified, fictitious example of how this might work. Edgar and Florence Poe, a Connecticut married couple with three adult children, own $4 million in combined assets. Edgar’s will and Florence’s will each provide that upon the death of the first of them, all assets go to the survivor.

Edgar is the first to pass away. Under Edgar’s will, all of his assets go to Florence. There is no Connecticut estate tax due because of the unlimited spousal exemption, and Florence now owns $4 million in assets.

When Florence passes away, if Connecticut estate tax laws don’t change, only one $2 million exemption will be available for Florence if she doesn’t remarry. If Florence’s estate is valued at $4 million, $2 million will be subject to Connecticut estate taxes. Edgar’s $2 million Connecticut estate tax exemption is essentially “lost” in this example.

Next, let’s look at the same couple – Edgar and Florence, with $4 million in combined assets. In this example, Edgar and Florence create living trusts designed to preserve the estate tax exemption. In Edgar’s will, there is a provision that, upon his death, $2 million goes directly to Florence; the other $2 million is transferred to a trust for Florence’s benefit. Because of the $2 million Connecticut estate tax exemption, assets passing into the trust are not subject to Connecticut estate tax. Because of the unlimited spousal exemption, the $2 million passing directly to Florence is not subject to Connecticut estate tax.

When Florence passes away, the $2 million in Edgar’s trust may be distributed to the Poe’s children, grandchildren, or anyone else provided for in the trust. Because the assets in Edgars’ trust may not be subject to Connecticut estate tax, there may be no Connecticut estate tax due for trust assets when Florence passes away. Florence’s estate can apply the $2 million Connecticut estate tax exemption for the $2 million remaining in Florence’s name.

THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO BE, NOR SHOULD IT BE RELIED UPON AS LEGAL ADVICE. CONSULT A QUALIFIED ATTORNEY FOR ADVICE REGARDING YOUR SITUATION.

 COPYRIGHT © 2016 DOMENICK N. CALABRESE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO PART OF THIS ARTICLE MAY BE PUBLISHED, COPIED, DISSEMINATED OR REPRODUCED WITHOUT THE AUTHOR’S EXPRESS WRITTEN PERMISSION.

Advantages of Living Trusts Part 3: Providing for Children

I recently had a discussion with a married couple with two small children. They were interested in providing for their children if something were to happen to both parents.

One way to accomplish this would be with a living trust. The parents could create a living trust, place assets into the trust, and name a trustee in addition to or in place of the parents. If both parents were to pass away while their children were still young, the trust could provide money to pay for the children’s education, medical care, housing, clothing, or anything else for the children’s benefit.

Once the children attained a certain age – it could be any age – 18, 25, 30, or some other age – anything left in the trust would then be turned over to children in their adulthood.

The trustee – the person responsible for managing the trust – would use the trust money to pay for whatever of the children’s expenses the trust was designed to cover. The trustee would be bound by the terms of the trust to be sure the trust assets were properly invested, and the trustee would be liable if he or she wasted trust assets.

Providing for the management of assets for minor children is important – if it’s not done with a trust or custodial account, a guardianship estate might need to be established in the probate court.   In addition to “youth” – those under the age of 18 – there are other reasons why managing assets for the benefit of an adult may be needed. For example, it can be very challenging for a young adult to responsibly manage a significant asset. Likewise, adults in their 30s or older may lack the sophistication or maturity to responsibly manage a significant asset. Perhaps providing support for someone with serious creditor issues, or someone who is easily taken advantage of by the unscrupulous is a goal. A parent or grandparent with adult children or grandchildren in difficult marriages may want to ensure that a potential “ex” spouse doesn’t end up with some or all of assets intended for their own child or grandchild. In all of these cases, a living trust could provide for the management of assets and support of loved ones without giving them the asset outright.

Trusts can be funded with any of a variety of assets – real estate, financial accounts, life insurance proceeds, and bequests in a will are just a few potential sources of trust assets.

In my next article, I’ll review how living trusts can be used to reduce Connecticut estate tax liability.

Living trusts are not appropriate for everyone. Only after consulting a qualified, ethical attorney who will take the time to understand your situation and objectives, and explain your options, is it possible to make an informed decision as to whether a living trust is appropriate for you.

Copyright © 2017 Domenick N. Calabrese. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be disseminated, reproduced or used without the express written consent of the author.

THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO BE AND SHOULD NOT BE RELIED UPON AS LEGAL ADVICE. FOR ADVICE AS TO YOUR SPECIFIC SITUATION PLEASE CONSULT WITH A QUALIFIED ATTORNEY.

For more articles and presentations by Dom Calabrese, visit his website at http://www.domcalabreselaw.com

 

 

Advantages of Living Trusts Part 2: Legal Incapacity

Living trusts offer many advantages. One of them is providing for the management of assets when the person who created the trust is incapacitated. However, this is only true for assets that are moved into the trust first. Simply creating a trust without moving assets into the trust will not provide this benefit.

Let’s look at how this might work. Mary Jones creates a living trust, naming herself and her son William as co-trustees of the trust. William’s reliability must be beyond question; unreliable co-trustees could easily mismanage or even steal from the trust.

Mary then moves some or all of her assets, including her financial accounts, into the trust – a very important step. She also arranges for her regular income to be automatically deposited into the trust accounts.

A few months later, Mary suffers a stroke and becomes incapacitated. She can’t write or communicate, and has a very limited understanding of what’s going on. Because she moved her financial accounts into the trust, William (as co-trustee) is able to manage Mary’s finances through the trust. He may use the money in trust accounts to pay Mary’s bills. If Mary’s income automatically gets deposited into trust accounts, William will also be able to manage that income.

If Mary hadn’t established the trust and moved her financial accounts into it, institutions where Mary’s accounts are located might not work with William or other family members. Even if Mary appointed an attorney in fact through a durable power of attorney, it’s possible that the financial institutions might choose to ignore the power of attorney.

This could create a number of problems. No one would know the value of Mary’s assets; it would be difficult or impossible to manage Mary’s affairs. There would be no access to Mary’s assets to pay her bills. Mary’s bills, such as insurance, mortgage, taxes and utilities might not get paid, resulting in foreclosure, interest and penalties for unpaid taxes, termination of insurance coverage, utilities being shut off, or collection action against Mary. Family members would not know what Mary could and could not afford.

Without the trust in these circumstances, a family member might need to make an application to the probate court to appoint a conservator of the estate for Mary so that her bills could be paid and her assets managed. Involuntary conservatorship proceedings in the probate court can be time consuming and expensive. This adds to the stress that Mary’s family must deal with in addition to the significant challenges posed by Mary’s stroke and resulting legal incapacity.

Living trusts are not appropriate for everyone. Attending “free seminars” promoting “one size fits all” living trust packages is NOT a good reason to pay for a living trust. Only after consulting a qualified, ethical attorney who will first carefully examine, understand and explain your options, can you make an informed decision whether a living trust is appropriate for you.

THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO BE AND SHOULD NOT BE RELIED UPON AS LEGAL ADVICE. FOR ADVICE AS TO YOUR SPECIFIC SITUATION PLEASE CONSULT WITH A QUALIFIED ATTORNEY.

Copyright © 2015 Domenick N. Calabrese. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be disseminated, reproduced or used without the express written consent of the author.

For more articles and presentations by Dom Calabrese, visit his website at http://www.domcalabreselaw.com