Category Archives: News and Opinion

What are Digital Assets and Why is Planning for Them in Your Estate Plan So Important?

Today, so much of our lives are online. We have social media accounts, document storage, banking and daily communication across multiple devices. Almost all of us have an active digital footprint. Digital Assets generally include any electronic record in which you have a right or interest, including any asset or liability which is itself an electronic record, regardless of the ownership of the device or account used to create such electronic record. A Digital Account includes all arrangements under which a custodian carries, maintains, processes, receives or stores a Digital Asset or provides goods or services in which you have an interest, or which you are lawfully entitled to use, also regardless of the ownership of any device on which the Digital Account is accessed or stored.

Bank statements and bills; paid online or free subscriptions and accounts with companies like iTunes, Amazon, LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram; digital currencies, such as Bitcoin; blogs or a domain you might own; as well as cloud-based photo storage; voicemail messages; reward programs and credit card points; all count as Digital Assets. If something were to happen to you, who would know what accounts you have and would they be able to access them online? Some of these accounts might have significant monetary or sentimental value.

Under Connecticut law, you can appoint a fiduciary to access your Digital Assets if you pass away or become incapacitated. This explicit authorization is critical to enable the fiduciary to obtain access to your Digital Assets. It is essential to include such powers in your Last Will and Testament or Trust and in your Power of Attorney to ensure that your fiduciary will have access to your online information and accounts. It is important to review your estate plan to ensure that not only are your financial and real and personal property provided for, but also your digital assets are considered and can be properly managed by your fiduciary. Access to your digital assets and your specific wishes as to how they will be handled after your death are just as  crucial as access to your physical and financial assets. To make sure your fiduciary is aware of and has access to your accounts, we recommend:

  1. Compiling an inventory of all online accounts and assets. This list should be kept together with your estate planning documents. Be sure to include your username and password and any other necessary information for all accounts, including social media accounts, your Cloud account, and online banking accounts. This list should be updated each time your passwords change.
  2. Providing Instructions for Digital Assets. Let your fiduciary know how you would like your digital assets handled at death. For example, would you like photographs from your Facebook, Instagram or Cloud account passed to your loved ones? Would you like your social media footprint to be eliminated completely? This is important guidance to your fiduciary so he or she is aware of your wishes.
  3. Updating your estate plan documents, as needed. Make sure your estate plan documents specifically include access to your digital assets. You may personalize your plan to name a specific individual to be your agent for Digital Assets, who may or may not be the same person you choose as your executor, or you may decide to limit access to certain Digital Assets.

As with every aspect of your estate planning, the goal is to be prepared and to make sure your wishes are followed. Providing access and instructions to your fiduciary and a list of accounts your fiduciary should be aware of are key steps in making sure there is access to important information and the value of your Digital Assets are preserved.

Michele D. Gartland is a partner of Rucci Law Group, LLC. She practices primarily in the areas of trusts and estates. Michele can be reached at 203-202-9686 or at

Selling Your Home: Setting Yourself Up for a Smooth Transaction

After an extended period of an excess of buyers and too little inventory, buyers are hoping that the local real estate market is beginning to even out. But whether it is a seller’s market or a buyer’s market, all parties want the transaction to progress as smoothly as possible. If you are considering listing your home this spring we recommend taking some time now to make sure that buyers don’t expose any unexpected surprises when they review the files on your property at Town Hall.

1. Check the tax assessor’s files related to your property.
Does the tax assessor’s field card correctly list the lot acreage, livable square footage in the house and all structures on the property?  Note that you may not want to correct the field card if doing so might cause the property taxes to increase, but you should be aware of any issues and be prepared to address or respond to any discrepancies.

2. Make sure that there are no open permits listed in the building department files related to your property.
If there are, speak to the contractor that did the work and ask them to go back to close out the permit or see if you can close it out yourself. Generally, open permits can be closed without too much time and effort. Also make sure that you received all necessary permits for any work done on the property during your period of ownership. If there was unpermitted work done, consider getting an after-the-fact permit. If you can’t, consider speaking with an attorney to review the issue before you list the property.

3. Check with the fire marshal to confirm that any paperwork on a removed oil tank was properly filed and that there is no indication of remaining contaminated soil.
Full removal paperwork was not routinely filed with the fire marshal until relatively recently; therefore, if the paperwork seems incomplete, check to see if you have more complete paperwork in your personal files and if you do, consider filing it with the fire marshal.

4. Know whether your property is in a flood zone or if there are wetlands on the property.
You will need to disclose these facts to any potential buyer. If the property is in a flood zone, find out if it is possible to transfer your flood insurance to a buyer and consider obtaining an up-to-date flood elevation certificate.

At Rucci Law Group our goal is to assist our clients with reaching a successful closing that is as stress-free as possible. If at any time you have questions regarding your property—whether you are a current client or a potential client— please reach out.  We are always happy to help.

Amy S. Zabetakis is one of the founding members of Rucci Law Group, LLC. She practices primarily in the areas of real estate and zoning. Amy can be reached at 203-202-9686 or at


The Duties of Being on a Non-Profit Board

Have you been asked to serve on the board of a local nonprofit organization? Chances are you have a history of volunteering with or donating to this organization and already know its mission. But moving into a board position does bring some legal duties, and most likely an additional commitment of your time. If you accept the position, there are some things to consider. In Connecticut, nonprofit board members have two primary legal duties: the duty of care and the duty of loyalty.

Duty of Care
The duty of care includes two main components. First, directors must be reasonably informed about the nonprofit and its activities. That means that you should attend regular board meetings, read any materials that are distributed to the board, and ask questions about the nonprofit’s activities. You are entitled to rely on information presented to the board by the nonprofit’s officers, other directors or committees of the board, as well as professionals hired by the nonprofit, such as accountants or legal counsel to provide the board with guidance.  However, if you have personal knowledge that information presented to the board is unreliable or incomplete, you may not rely on such information. You should also share your knowledge with the rest of the board.

The second component of the duty of care is a requirement that directors must discharge their duties in good faith, with the care that a person in a similar position would believe was reasonably appropriate under the circumstances. This is sometimes referred to as the “reasonably prudent person” and requires directors to use their reasonable judgment when considering decisions put before the board.

Duty of Loyalty
The duty of loyalty requires directors to act in the best interests of the nonprofit, rather than in their personal interests or in the interest of any related party or organization.  Included in the duty of loyalty is a requirement to maintain confidentiality of the nonprofit’s internal discussions and ensure that any conflicts of interest are appropriately addressed. You should review your nonprofit’s conflict of interest policy to make sure that you understand what may be considered a conflict of interest and how any conflicts are handled.

Serving on a nonprofit board can be a rewarding experience. If you are serving on a board and have any questions about your legal duties, we’d be happy to assist you.

Kate E. Diehm is a business attorney with Rucci Law Group, LLC.  She has experience with all areas of business law. Kate can be reached at 203-202-9686 or at


Company News

This month, Kate E. Diehm and Michele D. Gartland presented at the ED Exchange, a group of executive directors representing many of Darien’s nonprofit organizations.  Kate and Michele spoke about legal filing and compliance issues pertinent to nonprofits and fielded questions from the group. It was a good discussion and sharing of information.  RLG was happy to be a resource for the exchange, which does such great work within the Darien community.

Company News

Congratulations to George A. Reilly for being recognized again this year by Connecticut Super Lawyers Magazine as a Super Lawyer. The lawyers are selected through peer nominations and evaluationscombined with independent research. Selections are made on an annual, state-by-state basis. The magazine’s objective is to create a credible, comprehensive and diverse selection of outstanding attorneys that can be used as a resource for attorneys and consumers searching for legal counsel.

Four Essential Documents for Your College Bound Children

By Michele D. Gartland

If you’ll be dropping off your son or daughter on a college campus this fall, you probably have a long checklist of items. Along with the dorm supplies and books, you should add certain essential documents—giving you the legal authority to act on behalf of your child for financial and medical matters.

While college is about new experiences and fostering independence in your young adult, unexpected things can happen and you need to be prepared. These documents are vital in the event your child becomes sick or injured—and especially critical if he or she struggles with substance abuse or emotional issues that can impair their ability to make medical and legal decisions. We recommend the following four documents be created for your young adult:

1. Authorization for Release of Protected Health Information—which allows medical institutions to release medical records to a parent;

2. Durable Power of Attorney—which allows your child to appoint an agent to handle legal and financial responsibilities as needed;

3. Health Care Proxy—which authorizes someone else to make medical decisions if necessary;

4. Living Will—which designates end-of-life choices for your child.

While your child may always be a child in your eyes, at the age of 18, he or she is considered a legal adult—which means that hospitals and other institutions will not let you make decisions for them without these documents in place. You may want to have an open and honest conversation with them. Remind your child that unforeseen accidents and situations happen and these documents provide protection for them. Encourage them to read the documents fully. Your child may actually see these documents as another step toward independence. The Durable Power of Attorney is especially important—it gives you the ability to make financial decisions for your child in case of emergency without taking away the independence they crave as they begin this new and exciting stage.

Michele D. Gartland practices in the areas of trusts and estates. Please contact Michele D. Gartland or Marianne C. Cirillo directly with any questions or email us at

Michele D. Gartland Named Partner at Rucci Law Group

We are pleased to announce that Michele D. Gartland has been named a partner at Rucci Law Group and will be assuming full responsibility for the firm’s Trust and Estates Department. Michele has been a valued member of the team since joining the firm in 2015.

Michele’s individualized approach to developing estate plans has been well received by our clients, who have benefited from her depth of knowledge in estate and trust work, along with her background in corporate, real estate and general practice. Michele begins with a thorough understanding of each client’s goals and values and then develops plans that are best suited for their family or business.

Her trust and estates work is characterized by her ability to identify clients’ needs based on the phase of life they are currently in, and how to best plan for wealth protection and transfer. Michele has particular experience working with the intricacies of estate planning for non-citizens and individuals owning property outside the United States. Michele also has considerable background in corporate law, drawing on her years of experience in financial transactions and banking. Often, Michele’s areas of practice intersect as she assists clients with creating family foundations or holding companies for family assets. “Michele has been such an asset to the firm since she joined us,” said Amy S. Zabetakis, founding partner at RLG. “Her knowledge of estate planning is instrumental in creating the most individualized and effective plans for our clients.”

Michele began her legal career at Skadden Arps in New York and then went on to start her own private practice focused on trust and estates. Michele is a graduate of Georgetown University where she majored in History and Asian Studies and received her J.D. from Fordham University School of Law. She is licensed to practice law in Connecticut and New York. Michele raised her family in Darien and currently resides in Norwalk. She is active in numerous community organizations including The Community Fund of Darien, the Rotary Club of Darien and serving on the Board of Directors of the Darien Chamber of Commerce and Horizons at New Canaan Country School.

What Everyone Should Know About Estate Administration in Connecticut

By Marianne C. Cirillo

Fortunately, estate administration is not something one has to deal with very often.  But when the time arises, often under difficult circumstances, it is helpful to have a team in place to guide one through the ins and outs of the process. Here are a few basic points we thought would be helpful for you to be aware of.

Did you know…

1. If a Will exists, it must be filed with the Probate Court within 30 days of death;

2. If a Will exists, but the original is not found, it requires certain steps be adhered to with the Probate Court. Without the original Will, the two attesting witnesses need to be located and an updated affidavit needs to be signed by the original witnesses to accompany the copy provided for submission;

3. Given the current Connecticut Estate Tax exemption rate ($9.1 million in 2022), even if no estate taxes are due, Estate Tax documents must still be filed in the state within six months of death to obtain a Release of Lien and Certificate of No Tax Due in order for an estate to be officially closed;

4. Even if a home is jointly owned, a release of lien and notice must be filed on the land records to record the transfer of ownership to the surviving spouse to create the proper chain of title;

5. An estate can be structured to completely avoid going through probate.

In addition, estate administration can be impacted by actions taken or neglected in the estate planning process. Here are a few pitfalls we have come across.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid in Estate Planning

1. Estate planning may not correctly anticipate the spouse who ultimately is the first to die, resulting in unintended estate plan consequences;

2. Incorrect, outdated, or non-existent designated beneficiaries on 401(k)s, IRAs and life insurance policies may result in either unintended parties inheriting these assets, or assets going into the estate by default, therefore losing the favorable tax deferred benefits that could have been enjoyed by properly identified designated beneficiaries;

3. Overuse of Transfer on Death designations can unintentionally defeat the distributions specified in the Will;

4. Divorce decrees may not encompass every asset. Beneficiaries should be carefully reviewed, as failure to update designated beneficiaries may result in unintended consequences;

5. Motor vehicle registration is frequently overlooked in estate planning, as individuals may have car or boat titles in only one name. This could result in a simple estate being subject to a more lengthy probate process depending on the values involved;

6. Timeshares may or may not be subject to the probate process depending on how they are initially acquired, as real property through a deed, or personal property, through a percentage interest in a corporation. Consideration of this asset ahead of time can simplify the probate process and transfer after death;

7. Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) interests are viewed as personal property in Connecticut, and even if owned 50% with a spouse, will still be an asset subject to the probate process; and,

8. Transfer and ownership of guns are strictly controlled in CT. The ability of an unlicensed executor to transfer or dispose of guns or firearms is severely limited. Taking proper steps ahead of time is important to effectuate the orderly transfer of these assets and eliminate the potential for the executor to be subject to liability in the performance of his or her duties.

We work with clients at every stage of the estate planning process and work closely with executors to help them manage the estate administration and estate settlement. Our team is available to answer any questions you may have. Please contact Marianne C. Cirillo or Michele D. Gartland or email us at

Spotlight on Kelley LeRose

Rucci Law Group welcomes Kelley LeRose to the team. Kelley joins RLG with an interesting background in human resources, business management and operations.

What attracted you to Rucci Law Group?

A long-time friend of mine who works at RLG mentioned they were looking for an administrative assistant. The timing was right as I was looking for a new employment opportunity. I knew immediately it was the right fit. The culture at RLG is one of a close community of colleagues with many life similarities. And, they offer a growth path if I am interested in getting more involved with legal services, such as becoming a paralegal.

What strengths do you bring to your position?

I am extremely organized and am very familiar with online document management having been in recruiting within the technology industry for over 16 years. In addition, I owned and managed a restaurant group with my husband for 12 years.

A restaurant group must have been very interesting. How did that come about?

My roots are in Kansas City, so my husband and I spent quite a bit of time there. He became very interested in barbeque, so we launched a barbeque restaurant in Westport, with two other locations, the first of its kind in the area. It was a lot of hard work and a lot of fun.

Have you dug into any sizeable projects yet at RLG?

Yes! When I started the company was still in their temporary space. The real estate practice area was at its peak, and I was challenged with organizing files, creating client packages and correspondence for a record number of transactions. It was a great way for me to dig into the online file management system.

Company News

George A. Reilly, Board Chair at Norwalk Community College Foundation, presented the Cheng Family Scholarship to Terrence Cheng, president of CT State Colleges and Universities.

Pictured, left to right, Jon Gold, board member whose family foundation endowed the scholarship, Carrie Bernier, President and CEO of NCC Foundation, Cheryl Devonish, CEO of NCC, Terrence Cheng and George A. Reilly.

George A. Reilly has been nominated and selected to be part of the Best Lawyers list of attorneys in the matrimonial/family law area for the sixth year. “Best Lawyers” provides a peer reviewed list of attorneys nationally and is published in The Hartford Courant and Wall Street Journal among other publications.

Rucci Law Group has been nominated and selected to be part of the Best Law Firms list this year.

Owen and Charly Covello, recent graduates from Middlesex Middle School and Darien High School, respectively.

Congratulations to Owen and Charly Covello, son and daughter of Dianne Covello at RLG. Owen graduated from Middlesex Middle School and is headed to Darien High School in the fall. Charly graduated from Darien High School and is attending Elon University in the fall.

Congratulations to Teddy Gartland, son of Michele D. Gartland, on receiving his Masters in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan.

Sarah Mead, Amy S. Zabetakis’ husband, Ken Ehrhard and her daughter, Shea Ehrhard, seated in the center, left to right, were among the volunteers on-hand for the July 4th event.

RLG was proud to be a sponsor of the annual Darien Push n Pull Parade again this year.

Save the Date!
Once again, Rucci Law Group is a sponsor for the 37th annual Rotary Club of New Canaan’s Lobsterfest fundraiser Sept 30 and October 1. Reserve your lobster or chicken in August!

RLG is a proud sponsor of the Chamber Jam hosted by the Darien Chamber of Commerce on Saturday, October 8, 2022. Buy your tickets now!