Newsflash! PROBATE COURTS JUST GOT A NEW WAY TO ENFORCE COLLECTION OF THEIR FEES!

As mentioned in previous articles we posted here, avoiding the probate process using joint ownership or naming a beneficiary for an account does not avoid probate court fees. The probate fee is calculated on the gross taxable estate, which includes the deceased person’s interest in joint and non-probate property. Whenever the decedent owns an interest in Connecticut real estate immediately prior to his/her death, State law now gives the probate court an invisible lien for the court fees owed, which may only be released by the court after payment or provision for payment (such as an attorney holding back sufficient funds from proceeds of sale of the real estate to pay the court at the closing).

The release of probate fee lien should be recorded on the land records of the town in which any property is located, so that there will be no problems if the property is being sold, or is transferring to the sole name of the remaining joint tenant. The probate fee is due within 30 days from the sixth-month anniversary of the date of death of the decedent, and carries interest at a rate of six (6) per cent per year, in cases where assets are passing to someone other than the decedent’s spouse. The interest charge may be avoided if a timely extension is filed before the six-month deadline.

For estates valued in excess of Two Million dollars, the probate fee percentage rate increased effective for persons dying on or after 1/1/2015. Also, there is no longer a cap on Connecticut probate fees, so these may be significant costs for large estates.

If you have questions about this or any other topics related to Connecticut estate and probate law, please contact our law firm.

-D. Jeanne Messick

Disclaimer: While this blog provides general information, it does not constitute legal advice. The best way to get guidance on your specific legal issue is to contact a lawyer. To schedule a meeting with an attorney, please call one of our lawyers at (860) 316-2741. The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship.

Distinguishing Between Connecticut Estate Taxes and Probate Court Fees

As we discussed in an earlier blog post, many Connecticut residents attempt to “avoid probate” for a variety of reasons, including the desire to bypass paying Connecticut estate taxes and Probate Court fees.   Unfortunately for some unwary decedents and their heirs, however, avoiding probate might not be beneficial in all situations because it will not bypass certain Probate Court fees.

Fortunately for many Connecticut residents, relatively few estates are liable to pay Connecticut estate taxes because the tax only applies to transfers to non-spouses in excess of two million dollars ($2,000,000.00).  Structuring an estate plan in a way that avoids the probate process still might be worthwhile, by saving time and  attorney’s fees for required probate filings.

Unfortunately, however, almost everyone is responsible for paying probate court fees.  Connecticut probate court fees are calculated based upon the total assets listed on the Connecticut estate tax return filed at the time of a decedent’s death.  The values of joint bank accounts, IRAs and life insurance death benefits must generally be included on the Connecticut estate tax return, even if these assets do not pass through probate.  The due date for filing of the Connecticut Estate tax return is the six month anniversary of the deceased’s date of death. A joint owner (if there is no executor appointed) has an obligation to make the filing. Title to jointly-held real estate (for example, between a decedent and surviving spouse) is not clear for resale until a release of the Connecticut Estate tax lien has been issued by the probate court, so that the filing (and paying the Connecticut probate court fees)  is a necessary step.

Recently, the State legislature eliminated most funding for the Connecticut Probate system in its attempt to reach a State budget compromise, which means that the probate fees, particularly with respect to deceased persons, will likely need to increase to cover the cost of operations. Stay tuned for more information!

-D. Jeanne Messick, Esq.

Disclaimer: While this blog provides general information, it does not constitute legal advice. The best way to get guidance on your specific legal issue is to contact a lawyer. To schedule a meeting with an attorney, please call one of our lawyers at (860) 316-2741. The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship.

Why All Connecticut Drivers Need Underinsured Motorist Coverage

As we previously covered in another blog post, many Connecticut residents looking to save money on car insurance unfortunately often skimp on “uninsured motorist coverage,” an absolutely vital insurance policy provision designed to protect drivers from reckless drivers with no auto insurance. Just as important as that coverage, however, is “underinsured motorist coverage.”

Under Connecticut state law, all drivers must carry minimum automobile insurance limits of $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident. Liability insurance generally covers the accident victim’s medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

At first, the state minimum policy might sound like a lot of money. Considering that an emergency room bill alone in a serious car wreck could easily exceed five figures, however, it is clear that this amount of coverage is inadequate in serious car accidents. It is therefore vital that all Connecticut drivers protect themselves from being limited to the minimum insurance limits in the event of an auto accident caused by a driver with the state minimum insurance coverage.

Fortunately, Connecticut ordinarily requires that drivers carry “underinsured motorist coverage” (also referred to as “UIM”). As opposed to the liability coverage explained above, which serves to protect others on the roadway from your negligence, this type of coverage protects the policyholder from the negligence of other drivers who do not have enough insurance to pay personal injury claims caused by their negligent driving.

Underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) protects policyholders in the event that the at-fault driver does carry insurance, but the policy limits are inadequate to cover all injury-related losses. Although most Connecticut drivers are insured, those who opt to only carry the minimum amount required by law are undersinsured for serious accidents. Therefore, accident victims who suffer serious personal injuries will often have to rely on this coverage. UIM coverage is also frequently triggered when a number of victims are injured in the same accident. In such a scenario, the minimal $40,000 total occurrence limit has to be split among a number of seriously injured passengers.

In the event that the negligent party’s insurance coverage is inadequate, the UIM coverage will then cover the policyholder (as well as other passengers and some family members) for losses above and beyond those covered by the at-fault party. Therefore, your personal injury attorney would not be limited to the minimal coverage when negotiating a settlement in mediation, and the full damages could be pursued during a trial in front of a jury. Depending on the particular policy, the policy limit for UIM coverage might be reduced for benefits paid by liability insurance.

To make sure that you and your family have adequate insurance, review your policy limits with a car accident attorney to determine what type of coverage you would have in the event of a motor vehicle accident. If you are injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact a personal injury attorney to determine what options for compensation you have based upon your UIM coverage.

-Eamonn Wisneski, Esq.
Disclaimer: While this blog provides general information, it does not constitute legal advice. The best way to get guidance on your specific legal issue is to contact a lawyer. To schedule a meeting with an attorney, please call one of our lawyers at (860) 316-2741. The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship.

“Avoiding Probate” Is Not Always a Good Idea in Connecticut

Many of us hear that it is a good idea to avoid probate by making sure that held assets have a named beneficiary, such as is the usual case with an IRA or a life insurance policy. Another example of avoiding probate is to set up the ownership of accounts in survivorship with another person. Avoiding probate in this fashion does have some benefits, such as allowing quick access to a deceased person’s assets which are held jointly or are payable to a named beneficiary. Avoiding probate, however, will not avoid probate court fees, which are based on a percentage of the total assets of a deceased person, not just what passes through the probate process.

Taken to the extreme, probate avoidance may have other disadvantages, such as the following potential situations:

  • Putting a child’s name on a bank account creates a presumption that the entire account passes to such child upon the death of the original account holder. This may not have been the account owner’s intent.
  • Creditors of the person whose name has been added to a bank account may attempt to garnish or levy the account for an unpaid debt, or the joint owner may withdraw funds against the wishes of the contributing account owner.
  • Ownership of securities in joint names will require that all owners consent to sales and purchases, which may be inconvenient or unwieldy.
  • Upon the death of the original owner, the joint co-owner is not obligated to share the account with the other members of the deceased’s family/heirs who are not named as co-owners. In some cases, the joint account holder may not be willing to pitch in part of the joint account towards the decedent’s administration, funeral and burial expenses.
  • Joint owners and beneficiaries sometimes die before the owner of the asset, so there may need to be probate of these assets after all. A valid Will is still important to have, since it will control any assets passing through probate.

Anyone deliberating whether to structure an estate to avoid probate should give serious consideration to meeting with an experienced Trusts and Estates attorney to conduct an analysis of whether avoiding probate would be in the estate’s best interests. Dzialo, Pickett & Allen, P.C. is ready to assist you through this process, and we encourage you to have a consultation with us to understand this potentially complex area of Connecticut law.

-D. Jeanne Messick, Esq.

Disclaimer: While this blog provides general information, it does not constitute legal advice. The best way to get guidance on your specific legal issue is to contact a lawyer. To schedule a meeting with an attorney, please call one of our lawyers at (860) 316-2741. The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship.

Texting While Driving: Can “Remote Texters” Be Held Liable for Auto Accidents?

By now, almost everyone is aware that it is a bad idea to “text” or otherwise access the mobile web while driving because of the obvious safety concerns- this form of distracted driving leads to many serious car accidents in Connecticut. Fewer people, however, are aware of the magnitude of this growing specific problem and the number of serious car wrecks caused by these careless drivers.

Considering the variety of ways that texting distracts drivers, it is not surprising that using a smart phone while driving has become a leading concern for motorists. Texting while driving potentially distracts drivers in three ways: shifting the driver’s visual focus to a phone screen, taking the driver’s hands off of the steering wheel, and diverting mental focus from safe driving to the content of the text message. Recent studies reveal alarming statistics about this trend:

  • According to a study performed by the Cohen Children’s Medical Center, more than 3,000 teenagers die annually due to texting while driving.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2010 alone, 416,100 people were injured in motor vehicle accidents involving distracted driving, and that nearly one in five crashes that year involved distracted driving.
  • One driver participating in a Car and Driver experiment, traveling at 70 m.p.h., needed an extra 36 feet to stop while reading a text message and 70 feet to stop while writing a text message. The same driver was then tested while legally intoxicated- and only needed an extra four feet to stop.

But what about the person potentially distracting the driver by sending text messages? Most of the time, people sending text messages do not know what the recipient is doing at the time the message is sent. If the person writing the text messages knows that the recipient of the message is driving a car and might look at the messages while driving, however, the sender is recklessly subjecting Connecticut drivers to danger of experiencing a car wreck.

Although this theory has yet to be decided in Connecticut, a New Jersey appellate court decided that, depending on the circumstances, a remote texter can be held liable to accident victims if the text message recipient causes a motor vehicle accident.

In Kubert v. Best, two motorcyclists seriously injured in a car accident sued a person who had sent the driver a text message shortly before the accident. The appellate court decided that “a person sending text messages has a duty not to text someone who is driving if the texter knows, or has special reason to know, the recipient will view the text while driving.” Despite that general proposition, however, the court concluded that the “remote texter” in that case was not liable because there was not sufficient evidence that she knew, or should have known, that the recipient was driving when she sent the text message.

Although the New Jersey case is not directly binding on Connecticut courts, and potentially subject to further litigation in New Jersey, it does create persuasive authority that “remote texters” can theoretically be held liable for auto accidents in Connecticut courts.

If you are the victim of a distracted driver due to texting while driving, it is important to speak with a motor vehicle accident attorney immediately because as any fines assessed in criminal court will not cover your medical bills, time lost from work, or personal injuries suffered. Please contact us to schedule a meeting in either our Middletown or Old Saybrook offices. An experienced attorney can communicate with the insurance company, file a claim, investigate the circumstances of the car collision, and help ensure that your legal and financial interests are protected.

-Eamonn Wisneski, Esq.

Disclaimer: While this blog provides general information, it does not constitute legal advice. The best way to get guidance on your specific legal issue is to contact a lawyer. To schedule a meeting with an attorney, please call one of our lawyers at (860) 316-2741. The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship.

What To Do If You Are Involved in an Automobile Accident

All drivers are responsible for knowing what to do if involved in an accident, and following some basic steps could help protect your legal and financial interests regardless of who is at fault in the collision.

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Be sure to stop your car and remain at the accident scene. Under Connecticut General Statutes § 14-224, anyone knowingly involved in a motor vehicle accident on Connecticut roads must immediately stop, render any necessary assistance, and provide contact information to another party (such as the other driver or a police officer). Be wary of exiting your vehicle, however, in the event that a minor accident is only a pretext for luring you out of your vehicle.

Assess the accident scene to ensure safety, and move to another area if the conditions present additional safety concerns. Be aware of the traffic situation and other potential dangers, such as fire. Try to make the scene as safe as possible by activating hazard lights and using flares, if available.

After ensuring personal safety, call the authorities to report any injuries at the accident scene and request medical assistance. Even if there were no injuries in the accident, the police should be notified so that they may conduct an investigation.

Once help is on the way, document the scene and exchange information. Gathering key information will help in the event of a future claim, so try to obtain names, license plate numbers, contact information, and insurance policy information for all other drivers involved in the accident. Record contact information for all known witnesses to the accident before they leave the scene. Take photographs of the scene and vehicle damages.

Try to limit your interaction with the other driver to guard against possible “road rage.” Remain calm, even if the other driver does not. Do not admit fault for the accident because that is for the police to determine, and do not apologize for the accident because it might be used against you in future court proceedings.

Seek medical attention to make sure that you do not have serious injuries. It is a good idea to be checked out by emergency responders and hospital personnel because many accident victims do not notice injuries until hours (or even days) after the accident due to the initial shock of being involved in an accident. Be sure to follow up with your primary care doctor if recommended by hospital personnel.

Once time allows, consider notifying your own insurance company about the accident, but do not give a recorded statement until after you have an opportunity to consult with an attorney. Do not speak with the other driver’s insurance company. Connecticut law provides that vehicle owners may choose where repairs are done.

Consider hiring an attorney if you suffer an injury in a car accident. An experienced attorney can communicate with the insurance company, file a claim, address many common problems, and help ensure that your legal and financial interests are protected.

-Eamonn Wisneski, Esq.

Disclaimer: While this blog provides general information, it does not constitute legal advice. The best way to get guidance on your specific legal issue is to contact a lawyer. To schedule a meeting with an attorney, please call one of our lawyers at (860) 316-2741. The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship.

Defective Premises Cases in Connecticut

Defective Premises cases involve a claimant who slips, trips or falls as a result of a dangerous or hazardous condition on someone else’s property. Slip, trip and fall accidents can occur inside or outside of a building, and on residential, commercial or public spaces. Whether a claimant is entitled to compensation for injuries depends largely on the type of dangerous condition and whether an owner had knowledge of the condition. You may have a defective premises claim if you sustained an injury because of any of the following, as well as other circumstances:

  • Steps in poor repair
  • Potholes or uneven pavement in parking lots or sidewalks
  • Food or liquids on floors in retail or other business establishments
  • Dangerous objects in store aisles
  • Building Code violations (e.g. lack of handrails on stairs)
  • OSHA violations (e.g. failure to erect safety barriers at construction sites)
  • Ice and snow on driveways, parking lots and sidewalks

What to do if you are injured

Inspect the area where you slipped, tripped or fell to determine the defect, then photograph it with your cell phone or otherwise, immediately.   Remember, conditions can change quickly so if you are unable to photograph the condition which caused you to fall, contact a friend or relative and ask them to photograph it. Take several photographs of the specific defect (e.g. pothole, cracked pavement, ice), and the surrounding area.

Report the incident to a manager, property owner or other appropriate person, and get a copy of the incident report. If a commercial establishment, ask that an incident report be prepared, and that you be given a copy. If they claim that cannot give you a copy, ask to review it, and take a photograph with your cell phone.

If a manager, or employee comments that they knew of the dangerous condition or someone previously reported the problem, or someone else fell in the same location, ask for the name of the person making the comment, and write down what they said to the best of your recollection. Also write down anyone who was present.

If any emergency personnel come to the scene of the fall, report your injuries, and tell them how and why you fell so that they may accurately describe it in their report. If a paramedic, police officer or firefighter who responds to the scene, makes a comment about the defect (e.g. “It’s very slippery, get some salt”), recall the responder’s comment and write it down when you have the chance, after you leave the scene.

Seek medical attention immediately

Obtain the services of a medical professional and relay the cause of your injury. Follow the advice of your doctor.

Consult a legal professional

Defective premises cases are complicated, and your ability to bring a claim is limited. Make sure your rights are protected. As soon as you are able, contact a lawyer with knowledge and experience in defective premises cases.

-AnnMarie Cienava Rocco, Esq.

Disclaimer: While this blog provides general information, it does not constitute legal advice. The best way to get guidance on your specific legal issue is to contact a lawyer. To schedule a meeting with an attorney, please call one of our lawyers at (860) 316-2741. The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship.