This bill makes various substantive, minor, and technical changes in probate statutes. For example, the bill extends the jurisdiction of the council on probate judicial conduct to cover misconduct complaints against probate magistrates, attorney probate referees, and candidates for probate judgeships. It eliminates the use of three-judge panels in most probate matters.
Effective January 9, 2019, the bill removes Plainville from the probate district with Bristol and Plymouth, instead placing it in the district with Burlington and Farmington.
The bill makes certain changes concerning conservatorships, such as expanding the probate districts with jurisdiction over a petition for voluntary conservatorship. It allows a person with actual physical custody of a minor to apply to remove a parent as the minor’s guardian. It gives the governor the discretion to call a special election to fill a probate court vacancy, rather than making it mandatory. It allows the probate court to appoint a successor trustee of an inter vivos trust if the court finds that a trustee vacancy is likely to occur. (An inter vivos trust is one established during a person’s lifetime, as opposed to a testamentary trust.)
Among other things, the bill also:
1. eliminates a probate court administrator annual reporting requirement concerning attorney probate referees;
2. rewrites the statute on affidavits in lieu of administration for settlement of small estates;
3. makes changes concerning probate court budgetary matters, such as specifically requiring probate courts to maintain checking accounts;
4. clarifies notice requirements regarding proceedings to appoint a guardian for an adult with intellectual disability; and
5. codifies current practice by allowing probate courts to serve as passport acceptance agencies.
*House Amendment “A” (1) removes provisions in the original bill (File 729) that (a) eliminated the option of requesting a three-judge panel for applications for involuntary commitment to a psychiatric hospital and (b) allowed a judge in whose district the matter is being heard, when a member of a three-judge panel, to receive the same maximum $250 daily rate as other panel judges; (2) adds the provisions on Plainville and successor trustees; and (3) makes technical changes.
EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2015, unless otherwise noted below.
§§ 1-6 & 26 — THREE-JUDGE PANELS
Under current law, the probate court administrator must transfer certain matters to a three-judge panel, usually upon motion of the affected person, a party, or the judge in the case. The bill eliminates these transfers in:
1. an appeal of an isolation or quarantine order imposed by a local health director; and
2. a review of an emergency commitment order issued by a local health director, or a petition by a local health director for a judicial commitment order, for someone with active tuberculosis.
Under current law for these matters, the affected person or his or her counsel may request the transfer; the judge may also transfer the matter himself or herself, except for isolation or quarantine matters. If transferred, the commitment or confinement can only be ordered or continued if two of the judges agree.
The bill also removes the more general option for a party or the judge to request a transfer of any on-the-record probate matter to a three-judge panel.
As under current law, the bill continues to require three-judge panels (1) in certain habeas corpus matters brought in probate court (see below) and (2) upon motion, in applications for involuntary commitment of a child or adult to a psychiatric hospital.
§ 6 — Habeas Corpus
By law, petitions for a writ of habeas corpus challenging an involuntary conservatorship or guardianship can be brought in the Superior Court or probate court; if the latter, they must be heard by a three-judge panel. A majority vote is needed to continue the conservatorship or guardianship.
Currently, an appeal to Superior Court from the three-judge probate panel’s decision must be filed in the judicial district where the probate court that appointed the guardian or conservator is located. If the court is in a probate district that extends into multiple judicial districts, the bill allows the appeal to be brought in any judicial district with part of the probate district in it.
§§ 8-15 — COUNCIL ON PROBATE JUDICIAL CONDUCT
Under existing law, the council on probate judicial conduct investigates complaints alleging various types of misconduct by probate judges. The bill extends the council’s jurisdiction to cover misconduct complaints against probate magistrates, attorney probate referees (see BACKGROUND), and candidates for probate judgeships.
Specifically, it requires the council to investigate written complaints it receives alleging that a probate magistrate or attorney probate referee, in performing his or her duties, violated any applicable law or canon of ethics. It also requires the council to investigate written complaints alleging that candidates to become probate judges (other than incumbents) violated any applicable law or canon of ethics (1) while a candidate or (2) if elected, during the period between the election and the start of the term.
For this purpose, a person is a candidate after (1) publicly announcing his or her candidacy, (2) declaring or filing as a candidate with the state elections enforcement commission, or (3) authorizing solicitations or accepting contributions or support for his or her candidacy.
EFFECTIVE DATE: July 1, 2015
In general, the bill extends the council’s existing procedures to the investigations of probate magistrates, attorney probate referees, and candidates for probate judgeships. For example, in conducting its investigation, the council may use the services of legal counsel or various investigators. The respondent (the subject of the complaint) has the right to (1) be heard, (2) be represented by counsel, and (3) examine and cross-examine witnesses.
As under existing law for investigations of probate judges, the council must notify the respondent within five business days of receiving the complaint. Within seven business days of completing its investigation, the council must notify the complainant and respondent as to whether it found probable cause that misconduct occurred.
Under existing law, any such probable cause investigation must be confidential, and anyone the council calls upon to provide information must not disclose his or her knowledge of the investigation to third parties unless the respondent requests an open investigation and disclosure. If the probate rules of procedure require the respondent to disclose a complaint, the bill extends this same limitation on disclosure to the person receiving that information.
As under current law, if a preliminary investigation shows probable cause that the person committed misconduct, the council must hold an open hearing and publish its findings within 15 days after the close of the hearing. The council must recommend whether the person should be publicly admonished, censured, or exonerated. The council may issue a private admonishment for certain improper behavior that does not rise to the level of misconduct.
If the council recommends a public admonishment or censure, the respondent may appeal to the state Supreme Court. Currently, a copy of the admonishment or censure must be sent to certain people, including the town clerks in the judge’s probate district. The bill also requires notice to appropriate town clerks for cases involving probate candidates, but not probate magistrates or attorney probate referees.
By law, the council may recommend that the House of Representatives bring impeachment proceedings against a probate judge. The bill also allows the council to recommend that the chief justice suspend or remove from office a probate magistrate or attorney probate referee. It allows the chief justice, upon the recommendation of the council or probate court administrator, to suspend or remove a probate magistrate or attorney probate referee for reasonable cause.
§ 8 — ANNUAL REPORT ON PROBATE REFEREES
The bill eliminates the requirement that the probate court administrator annually report to the governor and the Judiciary Committee on (1) the number of attorney probate referees nominated, appointed, and assigned during the prior year and (2) their geographic, racial, and ethnic diversity.
EFFECTIVE DATE: July 1, 2015
§ 16 — AFFIDAVIT IN LIEU OF ADMINISTRATION FOR SMALL ESTATES
The bill updates the statute on expedited settlement of small estates. This procedure applies if the deceased person had no solely owned real estate and any personal property subject to probate is valued at $40,000 or less.
Under existing law, when this statute applies, instead of filing an application for admission of a will to probate or letters of administration, the appropriate party (e.g., the surviving spouse) may file an affidavit with the probate court stating whether the decedent’s debts have been paid as prescribed by law. Generally, if the appropriate party files this affidavit and no formal probate proceedings have been instituted, the court issues a decree authorizing the transfer of the property to pay any outstanding claims against the estate, with the balance going to the persons legally entitled to them (e.g., transfers under the will or the laws of intestacy).
The bill makes certain substantive changes to this process. It also makes clarifying changes and removes obsolete changes. Among other things, the bill:
1. requires the court to send a copy of the affidavit to the Department of Administrative Services in all cases, rather than only when the petitioner indicated that the decedent received public assistance or institutional care from the state;
2. specifies that this procedure may be used even when the total amount of claims, expenses, and taxes exceed the value of the decedent’s estate;
3. removes the requirement for the authority transferring motor vehicles or boats under this process to charge $3 and $1 for each transfer, respectively;
4. removes the requirement that the probate court notify the revenue services commissioner about these decrees in some circumstances; and
5. removes specific references to claims of funeral directors or other creditors owed debts from the decedent’s last sickness. (They continue to be eligible for transfers as creditors under the bill.)
§§ 17-19 — PROBATE BUDGETS AND RELATED MATTERS
The bill requires each probate court to maintain a checking account for its annually budgeted office funds, as transferred from the probate court administration fund. The court must disburse funds from the account to pay for its budgeted expenses.
It allows probate courts to hold in escrow any money paid by a person or entity in anticipation of future fees and expenses, as an exception to the general requirement that probate courts remit all fees to the state treasurer for deposit in the probate court administration fund. Under the bill, a probate court must deposit any such escrow funds in a checking account it maintains for this purpose. When the court charges a fee or expense to someone who has previously paid funds into escrow, the court must immediately remit the amount to the state treasurer.
The bill also allows the probate court administrator to (1) designate one or more probate courts to administer grants from the kinship fund and grandparents and relatives respite fund and (2) transfer grant funds to courts as he determines necessary under the programs. Each designated court must maintain separate checking accounts for these funds and disburse funds from the accounts to pay for approved grants.
Under the bill, in each of these contexts:
1. the court must maintain the checking account in its own name, at a bank, Connecticut or federal credit union, or an out-of-state bank that has a branch in Connecticut;
2. the court must not commingle these funds with other funds; and
3. existing law’s provisions for the deposit of public money (CGS § 4-33) do not apply to the management of these funds. (Among other things, those provisions set limits on the amount of public deposits in any one public depository or bank.)
The bill also specifies that probate office budget funds are not subject to existing law’s requirements regarding comptroller approval of purchase orders (CGS § 4-98).
EFFECTIVE DATE: Upon passage
§ 20 — REMOVAL OF PARENT AS MINOR’S GUARDIAN
The bill allows a person with actual physical custody of a minor to apply to probate court to remove one or both parents as the minor’s guardian. It removes the existing authority of the court to apply for this removal on its own motion.
Under existing law, any adult relative of a minor, or the minor’s counsel, may also apply to remove a parent or parents as the guardian.
EFFECTIVE DATE: January 1, 2016
§ 21 — PETITION FOR VOLUNTARY CONSERVATORSHIP
Under current law, a person seeking a voluntary conservatorship must apply in the probate court for the district where he or she resides or is domiciled. The bill also allows the person to apply in the district where he or she is located when filing the petition. This corresponds with the law for involuntary conservatorships (CGS § 45a-648).
EFFECTIVE DATE: January 1, 2016
§ 22 — NOTICE OF PROCEEDING TO APPOINT GUARDIAN FOR ADULT WITH INTELLECTUAL DISABILITY
By law, probate courts must notify certain people of hearings to appoint a guardian of an adult with intellectual disability. Current law requires notice by first class mail to certain recipients and allows the court to direct the form of notice to others. The bill specifies that notice to all such people must be made by first class mail and makes clarifying changes.
EFFECTIVE DATE: January 1, 2016
§ 23 — CONSERVATOR’S DEED
The bill specifies that a conservator’s deed may be used to convey property owned by a person under either voluntary or involuntary conservatorship, rather than an “incapable person.” By law, this deed may be used if authorized by a probate court.
§ 24 — SPECIAL ELECTION TO FILL PROBATE VACANCY
The bill allows, rather than requires, the governor to call a special election to fill a probate court vacancy. It also requires the probate court administrator to choose another probate judge to temporarily fill the vacancy under existing law’s procedures.
§ 25 — PASSPORT ACCEPTANCE
The bill codifies current practice by giving each probate judge the option to have his or her court serve as a passport acceptance agency, according to federal law and regulations. Under federal regulations, state court employees meeting certain requirements may serve as passport acceptance agents, when designated by the U.S. State Department (22 CFR § 51.22).
EFFECTIVE DATE: Upon passage
§ 501 — SUCCESSOR TRUSTEE FOR INTER VIVOS TRUST
By law, the probate court may appoint a person to serve as trustee when a trustee dies, becomes incapable, resigns, or refuses to accept the trust.
The bill allows the probate court to appoint a successor trustee of an inter vivos trust before any of these events occur, if the court finds that a trustee vacancy is likely to occur. The court must specify the conditions that the successor trustee must meet before becoming trustee. If a vacancy occurs, the successor may assume the trustee role immediately upon satisfying the conditions in the court order, without further court action.
§ 502 — PLAINVILLE PROBATE DISTRICT
Currently, Plainville is part of the probate district that includes Bristol and Plymouth. The bill instead shifts Plainville to the district with Burlington and Farmington.
EFFECTIVE DATE: January 9, 2019
Probate Magistrates and Attorney Probate Referees
Probate courts may refer certain matters, with the consent of the parties or their attorneys, to a probate magistrate or attorney probate referee. After hearing the matter, the magistrate or referee files a report of factual findings and conclusions drawn from those findings. The court can accept, modify, or reject the report.
The probate court administrator nominates individuals who qualify to be probate magistrates and attorney probate referees for the Supreme Court chief justice’s consideration and appointment.
Among other requirements, a probate magistrate must be a former probate judge; an attorney probate referee must be a person licensed to practice law in Connecticut and in good standing for at least five years. Probate magistrates are paid for each day of service; attorney probate referees are unpaid (CGS §§ 45a-123 & -123a).
Joint Favorable Substitute
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