From estate planning and probate, to fiduciary services and health care directives, elder law is in intricate and complex legal segment, with rules and regulations that can differ from state to state. Here to talk Lawyer Monthly through the challenges involved in this field, the latest legislative changes in the US, and through his and his firm’s thorough leadership in the realm of elder law, is R.J. Connelly III, a specialist attorney at Rhode Island law firm, Connelly Law Offices, Ltd.
Connelly Law is a family-owned law firm that specializes in probate, estate planning, elder law, and elder law-related fiduciary services. We strive to give our clients the best legal representation and assistance, and our firm works as a team to successfully meet our clients’ end goals. Our firm assists clients create advance health care directives, trusts, wills, powers of attorney, and other essential estate planning documents. For clients who need help with probate, we may walk them through the probate process, assist with estate administration, or represent them during an estate litigation case. Elderly clients who need any type of fiduciary service, representation, or retirement plan may contact our office, as well.
R.J. Connelly III practices in the area of elder law. This area of law involves Medicaid planning and asset protection advice for those individuals, and their families, entering nursing homes, planning for the possibility of disability through the use of powers of attorney for the both health care and finances, estate and tax planning, guardianship, probate and estate administration, preparation of wills, revocable and irrevocable trusts and special or supplemental needs trusts. Attorney Connelly practices heavily in both contested and uncontested probate court matters and provides a wide range of fiduciary services to his clients in acting as trustee, attorney-in-fact, and representative payee or other court appointments. He represents clients primarily in the states of Rhode Island, Connecticut and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
- Rhode Island Bar Association, Member, 1996
- Massachusetts Bar Association, Member, 1997
- Connecticut Bar Association, Member, 1997
- U.S. District Court of RI, Member, 1997
- U.S. District Court of MA, Member, 1999
- U.S. District Court of CT, Member, 1999
- Rhode Island Bar Association
- Probate and Trust Committee
- Elder Law Subcommittee
- Connecticut Bar Association
- Massachusetts Bar Association
- Pawtucket Bar Association
- National Elder Law Foundation
- National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys
- Board of Directors, Scandinavian Home, Cranston, RI
- U.S. Coast Guard 50/100 Ton Master Captain License
- Rhode Island and Massachusetts Licensed Real Estate Broker
- Member, National Council on Aging
- Member, American Association of Retired Persons
- Member, Alliance for Better Long Term Nursing Care
- St. Thomas More Society, Providence, RI
- St. Patrick’s Church, Mystic, CT
- Commissioned 2nd Lieutenant U.S. Army Reserves (retired)
- Quinnipiac Law School, J.D., 1995
- Suffolk Law School, 1994
- Providence College, B.A., 1991
- St. Raphael Academy, 1986
What kind of considerations do your clients need to prioritize in their later years, and how do you help in this regard?
Clients need to begin to prioritize their future needs relating to health, welfare and the transfer of wealth as soon as possible. Many people wait to the golden years in order to think about their estate plan. By delaying this process they may lose out on several benefits of pre-retirement estate planning. Clients need to consider Estate Planning, Medicaid (Title XIX) Planning, tax planning and continuum of care planning when it comes to their living arrangements.
What are the top three mistakes most elderly make in terms of asset planning and medical planning?
The biggest mistake elders make is not having the most basic estate planning documents. Without a health care proxy and durable financial power of attorney in effect the filing of a guardianship may be necessary. The Guardianship process is a probate court proceeding which, in essence, strips the civil liberties and decision making ability from the elder to a third party, obviously less preferable than pre-planning. Many elderly have the mistaken belief that they must utilize all their assets in order to obtain assistance relating to their nursing care, housing and health. This stems from the mistaken belief that they will only be entitled to government assistance if they are poor.
A mistake that some elderly clients make is putting off any estate planning because they are confident that they will never need skilled nursing care or that they have sufficient assets to obtain the care that they may need in their golden years. Another mistake some elderly make is not having a trusted advisor(s) attorney, accountant, or investment advisor. The statistics of elder financial exploitation are staggering and only growing. While much of the exploitation occurs with a family member or friend using a power of attorney, there should be oversight. Sometimes a trusted family member or friend is the most logical and appropriate choice, there are times when engaging a professional with oversight and insurance/malpractice to protect the elder is the better choice.
Have there recently been any ongoing legislative developments in regards to law surrounding the elderly and estate administration?
Connelly Law works in three states, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Massachusetts has recently adopted its version of the Uniform Probate Code which Connecticut did some time ago. Rhode Island still works on its own somewhat antiquated version of the probate administration. While the UPC streamlines the probate process in many ways, it would behove other states to follow suit.
As a thought leader in this field, if you could change any laws pertaining to the elderly, were would you begin?
I would like to see the laws protecting the elderly from financial exploitation, abuse, neglect and self-neglect strengthened. Many states have been slow to react and while some legislation has been enacted to strengthen the protections necessary, there is still a long way to go.
Another change that would be made is legislation dealing with the soaring cost of long term care. So few people have long term care insurance because of the prohibitive cost and underwriting requirements, families are left financially devastated. Laws need to be changed in order to address these problems.
How are you actively working towards the development or implementation of new or amended legislation, and how has your thought leadership contributed towards this?
Connelly Law attorneys work with several groups, agencies and academies which attempt to influence legislation for the betterment of the elderly community.
What would you say makes you the go-to attorney for elder law in Rhode Island and Connecticut?
Connelly Law Offices believes that the needs of our clients are a top priority. R.J. Connelly III was certified as an Elder Law Attorney (CELA) by the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF) in 2008.
He was only the third attorney in Rhode Island certified as CELA and is the only practicing CELA in Providence County. Lawyers who are certified as specialists have been recognized by independent professional certifying organizations as having an enhanced level of skill, as well as substantial involvement in established legal specialty areas. Certifying organizations require lawyers to demonstrate special training, experience and knowledge to ensure that recognition as a certified specialist is meaningful and reliable.
How would you say the demand and type of issues significantly differ between your clients between the various states you operate in? Are there considerable legal differences?
One difference is that Massachusetts and Connecticut operate on the Uniform Probate Code, which Rhode Island does not. Another is the state Estate Tax exemptions with Connecticut at $2 million dollars, Massachusetts at $1 million dollars, and Rhode Island recently changing last year from $921,655.00 to $1.5 million dollars. Currently, the federal rate is $5.43 million dollars.
Do you have a mantra or motto you live by when working with your clients in this legal segment?
Connelly Law Offices, Ltd., a preeminent probate, estate planning and elder law firm, has a mission to protect the legal rights and financial resources of our clients by employing a multidiscipline approach of legal and wealth management expertise to empower our clients, enhance their quality of life and provide peace of mind to meet their current and future needs.