Connecticut probate system: protecting vulnerable citizens or protecting its reputation?

October 22, 2012
The Connecticut probate system has been a known area of corruption and exploitation since Estate of Denial® began reporting on abusive probate cases and Involuntary Redistribution of Assets (IRA) actions back in 2007. Despite a few alleged “reforms,” stories suggesting highly unconstitutional acts continue flowing out of the “Constitutional State.”
Nonetheless, the government continues promoting a position of probate courts’ credibility and commitment to “protect vulnerable citizens from harm.” Here’s the latest talking points restatement by Connecticut Probate Administrator Paul J. Knierim as published in The Register Citizen:
A recent series of articles underscores that conservatorships are among the most important and sensitive cases that Connecticut’s Probate Courts handle. The purpose of conservatorship is to protect vulnerable citizens from harm, but it is a powerful measure that involves a person’s most basic civil rights – the control over one’s own personal and financial affairs. To protect those rights, Probate Courts adhere to strict procedural safeguards when deciding conservatorship cases.
A conservator is a person appointed by a Probate Court to help someone who is incapable of caring for himself or herself. Most conservatorship cases begin when a family member files a petition seeking the legal authority necessary to assist a loved one. An individual may also voluntarily ask a judge to appoint a conservator. Sometimes conservatorship is sought because a senior citizen or person with a disability cannot arrange for basic necessities. In many cases, it is needed because a person is being physically abused or exploited financially.
Procedures safeguard civil rights
A Probate Court is required to follow specific procedures to protect the rights of the individual involved in a conservatorship case. The court will ensure that the individual has an attorney and the state will pay for the representation if the individual cannot. State law prohibits the appointment of a conservator if an alternate arrangement, such as a power of attorney or health care representative, can address the person’s needs.
If a conservator is appointed, the court will limit the conservator’s powers to the specific needs of the individual. The court will conduct periodic reviews to supervise the activities of the conservator. A conserved person and members of his or her family have the right to a hearing at any time to address concerns about the conservatorship.
Read more.
PAUL J. KNIERIM: Probate Court
Protecting vulnerable citizens
October 21, 2012
The Register Citizen

It’s likely that Paul Knierim was motivated to provide his point of view particularly to The Register Citizen after the paper’s recent and great coverage of the Eli Schutts case. A Register Citizen op-ed discussed that case and others in the hard-hitting Cool justice: Unfit to serve: The farce known as probate court.
Another Connecticut probate system point of view, however, was posted just days before Knierim’s piece on The Hour in Daughter Continues Fight to Bring Mother Home. It in no way shares the probate administrator’s confidence.
Contact Marjorie Partch 212-420-9187 516 E. 11th Street, #5B New York, NY
Contact her to see why Professor John H. Langbein, Sterling Professor of Law and Legal History Yale Law School wrote the following article. You should warn your readers.
“The Scandal of Connecticut’s Probate Courts,” Statement of Prof. John H. Langbein to Conn. Legislature Committee The Scandal of Connecticut’s Probate Courts Statement of Professor John H. Langbein Sterling Professor of Law and Legal History Yale Law School Testimony to Connecticut Legislature Committee on Program Review and Investigations, Hartford, CT.
October 7, 2005 I appreciate the opportunity to appear before the Committee to speak about the problems of Connecticut’s probate courts. I specialize in trust, estate, and probate law. I have taught, written, and served as a legislative drafter in the probate field for more than three decades. I am a fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and a member of the International Academy of Trust and Estate Law. I serve as one of Connecticut’s Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. For the Uniform Law Commission, I was the reporter and principal drafter of the Uniform Prudent Investor Act, which governs fiduciary investing in Connecticut and most other states.
For the American Law Institute, I serve as Associate Reporter for the Restatement (Third) of Property: Wills and Other Donative Transfers (Vol. 1, 1999; Vol. 2, 2003, Vol. 3, in preparation). “Don’t Die in Connecticut” When citizens of our state ask me about Connecticut probate, I give this simple advice: Try not to die in Connecticut. If you are a person of means, you should–late in life–establish your domicile in some place such as Florida or Maine or Arizona that has a responsible probate system. You can still own a Connecticut home and spend plenty of time here. Indeed, if you place title to your Connecticut home in a Florida trust, your trustee can even transfer the house after your death without going through Connecticut probate. I am not the only person who gives such advice. If you go for a drive in Connecticut’s affluent towns and suburbs in the summer and fall, you’ll see all the grey-haired drivers sporting their Florida license plates. Some of these people would leave even if they did not fear Connecticut probate, in order to escape our state income tax and our winter weather. But for many, I am certain, the final straw that causes them to change domicile is the prospect of having their estates ripped off in Connecticut’s probate courts. By encouraging these people to leave our state, Connecticut probate causes the state to lose the income tax and other tax revenue that goes where they go. Connecticut probate is a national scandal. Our bad reputation is long standing. More than 50 years ago, in 1949, Professor Thomas Atkinson of NYU, then the leading American authority on the field, wrote that “Connecticut is just about at the bottom of the list so far as its probate court system is concerned.” (59 Yale L.J. at 1409 n. 59 (1950).) I move in national trust and estate circles, where Connecticut probate is routinely discussed as a disgrace. For estate planning professionals and law professors, Connecticut is the poster child for how not to organize probate courts. The Five Core Failings There are five major (and deeply interconnected) structural flaws in Connecticut probate: (1) the wasteful multiplicity of our probate courts; (2) the use of persons who are not legally trained to serve as judges; (3) the corruption that inheres in having lawyers sit as judges part-time, while they continue to practice law; (4) the perverse incentives of Connecticut’s probate court fee system, which rewards the probate judges for inflicting makework on estates; and (5) the sustained, self-serving opposition that the probate judges have mounted to protect their turf and fight off benign national trends and standards in probate procedure that would reduce expense for our citizens. I will discuss each.
Read more.
Daughter Continues Fight to Bring Mother Home
Bruce Gormley
October 18, 2012
The Hour
Conservatorships (guardianships in other states) get a certain attention, but probate abuse is realistically perpetrated by a variety of estate planning vehicles – wills, trusts, powers of attorney and conservatorships/guardianships. Another Connecticut case which still stands to EoD as incredibly egregious is that of Josephine Smoron (and now her estate) as it shows that estate planning documents are no guarantee that final asset distribution wishes will be honored and that estate looting can occur in estates of all sizes – it’s not just relegated to the “rich” (regardless the number assigned there).
The Smoron case was mentioned in The Register Citizen op-ed. We’ve written about it numerous times. Our column Connecticut estate case exposes inheritance rights realities highlights the case, our 2010 column Estate planning, size no deterrent to probate looting actions discussed it along with three other cases.
We ended that column with this. It holds as true today as ever!
While “proper estate planning” is always the prudent course, don’t believe this preparation or having only a modest-sized estate wards off the threat of probate corruption or estate abuse. Probate and switch happens every day and those $500,000 to $1.5 million estates can be the most appealing of all — enough to be worth pursuing, but not necessarily enough to cost effectively defend.
An unsuspecting public needs to learn what is already known to the legal industry and growing numbers of other unscrupulous individuals – people who are no more than modern-day grave robbers and other property poachers. Everything you have could depend on it. Beware.

• Marjorie Partch
Thank you for pulling this all together so well, and so quickly. I am grateful to my dear friend of our family for 40+ years, Mr. Bruce Gormley, for sending his links out regarding Yale Professor Langbein’s cogent indictment of Conn. Probate, along with my mother’s case-in-point so quickly. Mr. Gormley was my 9th grade English teacher, and later got my mother her first teaching job at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk, and they became friends as well as colleagues. He knows us both well, and the current nightmare, and says he has never seen a mother and daughter who have always been such close friends. He is horrified by this happening to us.
Interestingly, Bruce is also the cousin of Honorable Joseph Gormley, the Superior Court Judge (and first Chief State’s Attorney) who liberated Daniel Gross from Probate bondage in 2006, as covered so diligently in the Hartford Courant by Rick Green. The posthumous Gross case Conn. Law–changing Supreme Court Decision in March 2012 brought the story ~ and the larger phenomenon ~ to the national AARP bulletin this Summer:…
I was glad to get the coverage we did in the Hour last year, but disappointed that there was no mention of the multiple Citations from the Dept. of Public Health against Wilton Meadows regarding my mother’s neglect ~ for everything ranging from skin sores (finally identified as carcinomas) to a dislocated shoulder; and so much space given to the ridiculous and disgusting theory that I am only after her money. I had seven years to take it, as her Durable Power of Attorney, but LEFT EVERYTHING IN HER NAME ~ when I could have, and should have, protected her much better, had I transferred everything into my own name. In contrast, under the “professional protection” ordered for her, $3–400,000 was liquidated within a year ~ with the nursing home still demanding payment of $100,000 ~ so that she could qualify for Medicaid. What or who, exactly, are they PROTECTING? MY MOTHER ???
~ Lest you believe that your parents’ or your own advance directives will protect you from this “Protection” ~


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