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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.

Should You Make a Contingency Free Offer?

The Fairfield County residential real estate market is still hot and very competitive. There is extremely low inventory of houses available for sale resulting in houses going to contract within days of being listed. Buyers are doing everything in their power to make their offer seem as attractive as possible to the seller. But how much is too much? As a buyer, do you understand the risk associated with your offer? Below are the two most common contingencies we see buyers waiving in this market and a discussion of the risk of making an offer without these contingencies.

The Mortgage Contingency

As a buyer, you can make an offer without a mortgage contingency and still obtain financing for your purchase. An offer with no mortgage contingency does not mean that you have to pay cash. However, unless you have sufficient funds to purchase your new home without a mortgage loan, the risk with making an offer with no mortgage contingency is that your mortgage application might not be approved. There are two main reasons that your mortgage may be denied: (1) the bank doesn’t feel that you have strong enough credit or income; or (2) the bank decides the house you are buying won’t support the loan, or, in other words, the house does not appraise high enough.

Generally, if the issue is the appraisal, the bank will offer you a smaller mortgage. Then the question becomes – do you have sufficient cash to make up the difference in the loan amount and the contract purchase price? If you don’t have a mortgage contingency and the house appraises for less than the contract purchase price, you still have to pay the contract purchase price. Some buyers will attempt to mitigate the appraisal risk by using an appraisal contingency rather than a mortgage contingency but, note, that in this competitive market even appraisal contingencies are being turned down on properties that receive multiple offers.

If your lender declines to lend you the money that you need to close on the purchase and you are therefore unable to close on the purchase as scheduled, you risk losing your deposit (normally 10% of the purchase price). Working closely with your banker or mortgage broker and honestly disclosing all of your assets and your liabilities before you put in an offer can go a long way toward determining how much of a loan your income and assets will support. Note that a “pre-approval” does not mean that the bank has fully vetted your financials, and even with a pre-approval your loan can be turned down. A pre-approval can give you some comfort that your financials support the loan that you are applying for, but a deeper conversation with your lender is prudent if you are considering waiving your mortgage contingency.

The Inspection Contingency

There are a number of different approaches that buyers can take regarding inspections. With a full inspection contingency, the buyer can bring up a list of items that need to be repaired and ask the seller to either repair the items prior to closing or provide the buyer with a credit. Some buyers try to signal to sellers that they will not raise minor items by stating that they would like to do an inspection “for informational purposes only” or “for health and safety issues only.” With both of these types of inspection contingencies buyers are protected if there are major issues with the home such as a leaking oil tank, mold, a roof that is about to fail, etc. but will need to move forward if the  inspection reveals only minor issues such as leaking faucets or non-working outlets. Generally, if you are prepared to take on some repair expenses prior to moving in to your new home, you can feel sufficiently protected by the “for informational purposes only” or “for health and safety issues only” inspection contingency.

Some buyers have taken things a bit further and have fully waived their inspection contingency in their offer. Unless you are very familiar with building construction, this is an extremely risky offer to make. Houses are staged to be sold. Many issues that will be apparent to a trained building inspector can be missed by a home buyer even if the house appears to be solid and well maintained. It is important to note that the Residential Property Condition Disclosure Form and seller representations in the contract cannot take the place of a buyer doing their own due diligence prior to closing on a purchase. Once you close on your purchase you do not have any recourse to go back to the seller for issues you discover post-closing unless you can prove that the sellers intentionally mislead you. A court is unlikely to be sympathetic to the buyer that could have discovered the problem in advance but waived their opportunity to do a building inspection.

As real estate attorneys representing buyers, the attorneys at RLG understand buyers need to do all they can to make their offer as attractive as possible in this challenging market. But we do want to be sure that our buyers fully understand the risks of the offer that they are making. On the flip side, as seller’s attorneys, we will continue to advise our sellers that a slightly lower offer with no contingencies is a stronger offer than the offer to pay a higher price but with more contingencies.

If you have real estate related questions we are happy to assist you. Please contact Amy Zabetakis or email us at


Estate Planning for your Retirement Assets

For many people, their retirement savings is one of their largest assets, and the rules for how these assets are passed to beneficiaries has changed significantly with the passing of the SECURE Act at the end of 2019.

An IRA or 401(k) typically does not pass through an individual’s Will. In most cases, it passes to a beneficiary designated at the time the  account was opened. These accounts may have been set up years ago, and haven’t been reviewed since. It is good to review these plans, especially the beneficiary designations, every few years to confirm they still reflect your wishes. Beneficiaries designations can be updated very easily and they can be allocated on a percentage basis. It is important to remember that these beneficiary designations supersede what is set forth in a Will.

The beneficiary designation should include at least one primary and one contingent beneficiary.  Extra consideration should be paid to naming minors as contingent beneficiaries. This will give the minors direct access to retirement assets when they turn 18. If you would like that access to be limited over time or at the discretion of a trustee, the beneficiary designation should be a trust for the benefit of your child or children and should contain specific language that allows for the continued benefit of tax deferred status in compliance with the tax code.

Most retirement assets include pretax savings therefore distributions from these accounts are subject to income taxes upon withdrawal. If charitable bequests are part of your estate plan, it often makes sense to include these charities as a percentage of your retirement assets because the charities will not be required to pay income tax on the distribution, thereby allocating more non-retirement assets to beneficiaries who are able to receive them tax free.

While surviving spouses are still able to rollover an inherited IRA or an inherited 401(k) into their own tax deferred account and are still able to stretch payments over their own life expectancy, for most non-spouse beneficiaries, such as adult children, the ability to stretch payments over their own life expectancy is no longer an option. The SECURE Act requires non-spouse beneficiaries (other than a minor child, a disabled beneficiary or a beneficiary who is less than 10 years younger than the original IRA account owner or 401(k) participant) to withdraw all the assets from the inherited IRA or 401(k) plan by December 31st of the 10th year following the original IRA owner’s death. Beneficiaries of inherited IRAs still need to adhere to the Required Minimum Distribution rules and careful planning with a tax advisor is recommended to strategize how to maximize the benefit of this inheritance.

At Rucci Law Group we assist clients in reviewing beneficiary designations and discussing how best to allocate this important asset category among your beneficiaries as part of your estate planning.

If you have any questions about this or any aspect of your estate planning, we would be happy to assist you. Please contact Michele Gartland or Marianne Cirillo directly with any questions or email us at



Spotlight: Jennifer N. Ross

How did someone with a degree in Anthropology end up becoming a paralegal?

I enjoy anthropology, and I did an internship at the Institute for American Indian studies in Washington, CT while I was in school. But at the same time, I was working at another company where I met a Connecticut public defender and ended up working as his assistant. I was doing legal research for the appellate court and found it interesting, so decided to get my certification as a paralegal.

Did you encounter any particular challenges starting a new job during COVID?

The job transition was actually easier than I expected since Rucci Law Group was able to easily set up work from home accommodations. My biggest COVID challenge was actually not related to my employment. My husband and I got married in May 2020, which was right at the start of COVID. We had to cancel our big wedding for a more intimate teeny tiny ceremony with only a justice of the peace and a few family and friends, which ended up being nice in its own way. Eventually we’ll have that big wedding too! 

What do you like to do in your free time?

I love reading and the outdoors– especially hiking, kayaking, and traveling. I really enjoy visiting national parks. One of my favorite trips was to North Dakota and South Dakota, hiking in the Badlands and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. But most importantly, I enjoy spending time with my husband, Aaron, and our two cats:  Coral and Maestro.

Company News

We welcome Jennifer Ross and Kelley LeRose to our team!

Jen is a paralegal and is assisting attorneys with probate court matters related to estate administration and conservatorships. She also assists with drafts of a variety of trust and estate documents. “We are very excited to have Jen joining us at Rucci Law Group,” said Amy Zabetakis, founding member of the firm. “Jen has a strong background in trusts and estates, civil litigation matters and experience working with probate, state and federal courts and has already shown herself to be an asset to our firm and clients.”

Kelley is an administrative assistant and is assisting us with oversight of our file management. A large first project for her as we moved files back into our regular offices post-renovation. “Kelley has already shown herself to be a huge help” said Amy Zabetakis. “Kelley has a varied background in both office management and human resources and is willing to tackle any project that comes her way. We are all grateful to have her working alongside of us.”

Congratulations to Kathryn E. Diehm for being included as a Rising Star for the sixth year in a row in Connecticut Super Lawyers Magazine.  No more than five percent of attorneys from each state are included in the Super Lawyers designation for any given year. The multi-factor selection process includes independent research, peer nominations and evaluations, as well as professional achievement in legal practice.

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 evaluations combined 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.

Congratulations to Amy S. Zabetakis on her election to the Darien Representative Town Meeting (RTM) for District 5. As a member of this non-partisan body, Amy represents over 2,500 voters in her district.

An update on our offices

Thank you for your patience while we renovated our offices damaged by the storm this past fall. We are happy to report we are now back in our offices and look forward to welcoming you to our refreshed office space in Darien. We are also happy to meet with you by appointment in our New Canaan office at 59 Grove Street.

Company News

Congratulations to Teddy Gartland, son of Michele Gartland, who graduated May 1, 2021 from the University of Michigan with a BSE in Mechanical Engineering.  He is interning this summer at Tesla before returning to the University of Michigan to complete his Masters in Mechanical Engineering.


Congratulations to Andrew Stueber, son of Birgit Stueber. He graduated in May from the University of Michigan with a BBA from the Ross Business School.

He will be returning to the University this fall for a graduate certificate in Real Estate Development and to play another season of football.


Shea Ehrhard, daughter of Amy Zabetakis, is the recipient of a Darien Chamber of Commerce Scholarship. After graduation from Darien High School this June, she will be headed to Clemson University.


Holiday Wishes

To all of our Clients and Friends

2020 has been a challenging year.
We appreciate you putting your trust in us and value our relationship with you.

This year, in lieu of a printed holiday card, we would like to honor our health care workers and first responders. We are making a donation to The Americares Free Clinic, which provides free healthcare services in the State of Connecticut, and to our local voluntary Emergency Medical Services at Darien Post 53 and the New Canaan EMS.

Our warmest wishes to all for a safe holiday season and for a brighter New Year!

Tax and Estate Planning

By Michele Gartland

While election results are in, as of this writing they are still being contested and much in terms of tax policy remains uncertain. Any changes may hinge on the composition of the Senate which is subject to the two Georgia runoff races in January. Potentially at stake are: (1) a reduction in the federal estate tax exclusion amount, (2) elimination of a “stepped up” basis upon death, (3) changes in the corporate tax rate, and (4) changes to income tax rates and brackets. These are just a few of the possible tax changes being discussed. Many are considering using their lifetime gift tax exclusion amounts sooner rather than later through outright gifts or the creation of trusts. Here in Connecticut we need to be mindful of the impact of the current state exclusion amount as well.

Adding to the difficulty in planning is the uncertainty of when these changes might take effect, if implemented at all. If they are retroactive to the beginning of 2021, which many view as unlikely, but some people fear, the window to act is short. If the new tax laws take effect at the end of 2021, there will be more time to plan and act.  As attorneys, we are trained to think in terms of contingency planning. With awareness of the issues, you can evaluate the potential risks and impact on your own situation. Should you wish to discuss how best to position yourself for the future, we are here to support you and to review options with you.

Michele Gartland provides expertise in a wide range of estate planning techniques and corporate matters. She can be reached at 203-202-9686, extension 209.

Navigating the Pandemic’s Real Estate Rush

By Amy Zabetakis

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought its share of 2020 surprises, including a home-sales boom here in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Indeed, real estate continues to trade at a head-spinning rate here in our local communities slowing only due to a lack of inventory.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the market belongs to sellers alone. Buyers are still savvy, unwilling to overpay or to let sellers off the hook on any problems that emerge through inspections. They want move-in ready houses, at the right price.

If you are considering selling your home, be sure to use a Real Estate Broker with substantial knowledge of the local market and buying trends. and listen to your Broker when setting the price for your home. Even in the current market, the rule of thumb holds: A well-priced home will generate substantially more interest than one that is overpriced.

Here are a few more guidelines if you are considering listing your house or are in the market to buy a new home at this unprecedented time.

  1. Do some due diligence on the deed. Make sure there are no unusual easements or restrictions that limit the use of the property. While many Town Halls are still closed to the general public or have limited office hours, in many cases you can access land records online.
  2. Line up your permits. Be sure all work done on the home is documented by the appropriate permits and Certificates of Occupancy. With many of us home these days in search of a project, local building officials are reporting an uptick in unpermitted work by DIYers using the time to, for example, finish their basement. While a homeowner can legally work on their own home without a license, you still need a permit from the building department. Again here, even if you can’t get into the Building Department in person, there is much you can accomplish online.
  3. Verify any flood paperwork. If the house is in a flood zone, flood insurance is an added factor. Make sure a current, non-expired flood elevation certificate is available so buyers can quickly and easily obtain insurance.
  4. Uncover any liens. Make sure you are aware of all liens on the property. It’s not enough to rely on information in the town’s land records, since COVID has caused delays in the recording of documents on the land records. If you refinanced recently, make sure your attorney has the correct, up-to-date loan information so the loan can be paid off at closing.
  5. Set your timeline carefully. Before executing a contract, consider mortgage contingency dates and closing dates, along with all delay provisions. Lenders are inundated with requests for new loans for purchases and refinances, and can be very backed up. Buyers should make sure that their lender has confirmed that they can perform within the timeframe specified by the contract. On the other hand, sellers need to be sure they’ll have an alternative place to live a day or more before the closing date. Don’t assume a rental or a new home will be available— there’s nothing worse than selling your family home without a place to go from there.

We welcome all of the new home buyers to Fairfield County, and are excited to see our community grow. We’re here as a trusted partner to help you navigate these challenging times.

Amy Zabetakis is a founding member of Rucci Law Group, LLC. She practices primarily in the areas of real estate and zoning. Amy can be reached at or 203-202-9686 x204. 


Just Moved?

Now is an important time to review your estate plan and accompanying Power of Attorney and Health Care documents. If you have moved from a different state, there are different statutory forms and there may be different estate tax planning issues that are relevant in one state but not in another. At Rucci Law Group we can review your current documents and advise what changes, if any, you may want to consider.