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Avoid Probate? Westport-Weston Judge Explains Power Of Attorney Changes

Westport-Weston Probate Judge Lisa Wexler
Westport-Weston Probate Judge Lisa Wexler Photo Credit: Contributed

WESTPORT, Conn. — She started off with the standard caveat lawyers offer before speaking about legal matters — “No legal advice!”

But Westport-Weston Probate Judge Lisa Wexler then jumped in to introduce the Westport Sunrise Rotary to Connecticut’s new Power of Attorney Act on Friday.

On the main topics, she said that Connecticut maintains 54 Probate Courts. They “provide an approachable forum for families to resolve their cases in a fair, prompt and economical manner,” she said.

A Power of Attorney is a legal document that delegates to another the right to exercise certain powers, including wills, estates, conservatorships, issues relating to children and to the intellectually disabled.

The new law, the Uniform Power of Attorney Act, was enacted to bring a 51-year-old law up to date, to bring it into compliance with 17 other states, and to make its powers more flexible and easier to use, she said.

Wexler called it “well overdue.”

The new law expands the the powers that may be delegated. It is available in two forms: a short and a long:

  • The short form is the more common, it delegates the essential powers.
  • The long form adds estate planning points as “hot powers” that can be individually delegated, and affords the agent greater power.

Also, banks are now compelled to honor an existing POA document.

The act also better protects vulnerable individuals from POA abuses and financial exploitation. And it facilitates the reporting of agents who mistreat those in their care — are they spending principal’s funds inappropriately, for example.

Probate courts have always been the venue to report a person being abused, even if the reporter is a “nosy neighbor, a care giver,” who has no formal relationship with the abused, Wexler said.

These courts can then hear that neighbor say “Your Honor, I smell something fishy going on, and I think it’s my duty as a citizen to report it,” and order an accounting under a power of attorney.

In closing, she said, “If your family gets along, do your living trusts, avoid probate. … Otherwise, I would think twice about doing everything to avoid probate because you don’t have oversight.”

Wexler recommends that people review their documents periodically to assure that there has not been a change in their circumstances. If needed, “go back to your attorney and redo your documents.”

For those who would like her advice, Wexler holds office hours Tuesday evenings at 7:30 in Westport Town Hall, Room 100, but plans to take the summer off.

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