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Your Legal Rights

We are all protected by certain legal rights that seek to provide each of us with fair treatment and quality care, safe from discrimination, fear or abuse. Understanding your legal rights, benefits and obligations is crucial to maximizing the use of the services and supports.

Use the menus below to find subjects that best match your needs. The Legal Matters section addresses issues, such as living wills, powers of attorney, conservators and other legal matters that are important to understand when planning for your future. The Consumer Rights section will help you recognize and understand your rights within the system of services and supports for older adults and persons with disabilities. The Legal Resources section will point you to organizations that can provide additional information and help.

Legal Matters - Planning for the Future

Your Rights to Make Health Care Decisions

There are a number of ways in which you can plan in advance for your health care when you can no longer make decisions for yourself or when you may be near the end of your life. Sometimes these documents are called “Advance Directives.” One is the appointment of a Health Care Representative, someone you trust who can make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable. Another is the creation of a Living Will, which defines medical interventions or life support measures you want or do not want at the end of life. You may also designate in advance a person to supervise your affairs if you are unable to do so. And you can decide in advance to donate your body or organs after your death. More detail on each of these is below.

Appointment of a Health Care Representative

You can appoint an individual to make any and all healthcare decisions in the event that you are unable to do so yourself by completing an "Appointment of Healthcare Representative" form. Download the form here.

There are important reasons to appoint a healthcare representative. These include:

  • Helping to make sure that you get the health care you want if you are not able to communicate your wishes.
  • Avoiding family arguments about who should speak for you.
  • Letting your doctors know whom you have entrusted with decisions about your care.
  • Expressing to someone in advance your attitudes toward health care, treatment preferences, and any religious or other beliefs about care.

Make sure to appoint someone you trust who will honor your wishes, be available when needed, and advocate on your behalf

Living Will

In Connecticut, the legal document that expresses your wishes concerning health care at the end of life is called a “living will” or “health care instructions.” Currently, a living will or health care instructions permits you to state your wishes regarding any and all health care decisions, including life-support systems, surgery, antibiotics or other medical treatments in the event that you are terminally ill, permanently unconscious or unable to communicate. It can also dictate the level and type of life support you want and under what conditions it should be received.

There are important reasons to have a living will. These include:

  • Helping to make sure that your end-of-life medical care wishes are followed.
  • Relieving your loved ones of the burden of making end-of-life decisions without knowing your wishes.
  • Enabling your doctor to follow your instructions.
  • Keeping your private wishes on dying out of the Probate Court, where these disputes may otherwise end up.

Hospitals and nursing facilities are required by the Patient Self-Determination Act (PSDA) to ask you when you are being admitted if you have a living will or wish to execute one, but they cannot require you to sign one in order to receive care. A living will is not an obligation.

Completing a living will should include thinking through your wishes, filling out a form and discussing the form with your family and doctor. A Connecticut living will must be signed, dated and have two witnesses. Because Connecticut health care providers are most familiar with Connecticut living wills, using the state form may mean that there is less likelihood of your wishes being misunderstood.

Connecticut law provides both a stand-alone form and a combined form that includes additional advance directives. These include: designation of a health care agent, a power of attorney for health care decisions, the advance designation of a conservator and donation of an anatomical gift.

A living will can be revoked at any time and in any manner, such as by physically destroying it or by orally declaring it.

Learn More: Download a Connecticut Living Will and information packet for more information and to complete a living will.

Advance Designation of Conservator

A "conservator of the person" is someone appointed by the Probate Court to supervise your personal affairs if you are incapable of caring for yourself or otherwise agree to it voluntarily. Under Connecticut law, "Incapable of caring for one's self" means that a person has a mental, physical or emotional condition that makes them unable to make or communicate decisions to meet essential requirements for personal needs, even with assistance.

Connecticut law requires that conservators comply with your “advance health care directives” and defer to any person whom you have already appointed to express your health care wishes if you cannot.

Conservatorship is either voluntary (where you ask a Probate Court to appoint a conservator for you) or involuntary (where someone else asks a Probate Court to appoint a conservator on your behalf).

The advantage of completing an advance designation of conservator is that it will help a court follow your wishes, unless it finds the appointment of the person you chose is not in your best interests or the person you chose is unable to serve.

Anatomical Gift

An anatomical gift is the donation of your body or organs to medical science or for transplantation.

Under Connecticut law, unless you limit the reasons for an anatomical gift, your body, or parts of it, may be given:

  1. To a hospital, physician, surgeon or procurement organization for transplantation, therapy, medical or dental education, research or advancement of medical or dental science.
  2. To an accredited medical or dental school, college or university for education, research, or advancement of science.
  3. To a particular person you specify who needs an organ.
  4. To "save life" or "for transplants."

Keep in mind that unless you state in writing that they may not do so, your family has the right to make an anatomical gift after your death.

An anatomical gift can be made in one of three ways:

  1. By signing a “document of gift.”
  2. Through imprint on your driver’s license.
  3. By expressing those wishes in your last will and testament.

You can revoke your anatomical gift only by a signed statement.

Wills and Living Trusts

A will is a legal document that ensures your assets are distributed after your death according to your wishes by a person (called an "executor") of your choosing. While it’s always best to consult an attorney, simple wills can be prepared with do-it-yourself forms. These types of wills can be found online. If you don't have a will, state law tells the Probate Court how to distribute your assets, which may or may not be what you would have wanted.

A living trust transfers ownership of your assets into a trust while you are still alive and outlines how you want your property managed for the benefit of yourself, dependents and survivors. The trust is administered by a trustee you have chosen. A lawyer should always prepare living trusts. If assets are placed in a living trust, they do not go through probate upon your death, as they do with a will.

Choosing between a will or living trust, or using both, is a personal decision that should be made in consultation with your attorney and possibly family members.

Probate is a legal process administered by Probate Courts located in most municipalities to direct and oversee the payment of your obligations and distribution of your assets, including personal property, financial assets and real estate, when you die. The court determines whether your will is valid, oversees the payment of your obligations and inventories and appraisals, gives notice to creditors, including the State of Connecticut, which may make claims on your assets and distributes remaining assets according to your wishes. If you do not have a will, the court will distribute your property to creditors and heirs according to state laws.

Learn More: Download the Probate Court Users Guide – Understanding Trusts guide for more information on trusts and the Probate Court Users Guide – Administration of Decedents’ Estate guide on how estates are administered.

Health Care Advanced Planning Tool Kit

A tool kit is available to assist you with the process of health care advanced planning. It’s designed to help you discover, clarify and communicate what is important in the face of serious illness. Download the Connecticut Legal Rights Project Advanced Directive Tool Kit here.

Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment

A Medical Order for Life Sustaining Treatment (MOLST) is a voluntary medical order form similar to a prescription based on a person's right to accept or refuse medical treatment, including treatment that may extend life. For example, it may contain instructions telling emergency medical personnel and other health care providers not to administer CPR in the event of a medical emergency.

A MOLST also includes directions about life-sustaining measures and can be an important tool to help medical providers understand your wishes at a glance. These forms are for people who are terminally ill, and signing one requires discussions between the individual and their MOLST-trained physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant. Once signed, the document stays with the individual across all healthcare settings.

It is important to understand that a MOLST is not a substitute for an advance health care directive such as a living will or appointing a health care representative. These are legal documents that are only effective if the individual can no longer make or communicate choices about their health. MOLST forms are effective immediately upon signing.

For more information about MOLST forms, go to the Connecticut Department of Public Health's website.

Consumer Rights

Discrimination

Federal and state laws prohibit most forms of discrimination based on age, race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, familial status or national origin. You are protected against discrimination in the following areas: housing, credit, employment and public accommodations.

If you are experiencing discrimination in any of these areas, you can file a complaint by contacting the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO). You may also wish to seek an attorney whose practice covers these issues.

For people with disabilities, you can also contact the Disability Rights Connecticut, Inc. (DRCT), which can pursue legal and administrative remedies for those who experience disability-related discrimination.

If you have limited income and need legal services, see Legal Resources - Where to Get Help below.

Housing

The Civil Rights Act of 1968 and the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 prohibit discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. However, housing developed specifically for older adults is allowed if the structure meets specific requirements. People with disabilities may ask for “reasonable accommodations” in their housing, such as a ramp if they are willing to pay for the cost themselves.

Credit

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act is a federal law that protects against credit discrimination, including application for credit, extensions of credit, credit sales and invitations to apply for credit.

Visit the Connecticut Department of Banking website to file a complaint, access downloadable consumer assistance forms or consumer information and education programs.

Learn more: Visit the Connecticut Judicial Branch Law Libraries, a comprehensive resource about debt collection. From this site, you can access Connecticut Law about Consumer Law.

Employment

Federal and state statutes protect against workplace discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, familial status or national origin. These protections include:

  • Hiring practices
  • Referrals
  • Advertisements for positions
  • Termination
  • Involuntary retirement
  • The formation of or membership in a labor organization

In addition to contacting the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities with an employment complaint, you can contact the Boston area office of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), whose jurisdiction includes Connecticut.

Public Accommodations

Regardless of disability, you are entitled to full access to any building or establishment offering services, facilities or goods to the general public. Access may include reasonable accommodations such as interpreters for the hearing impaired in addition to physical access by ramps, elevators or other physical alterations.

Landlord and Tenant Issues

Federal and state laws protect both tenant and landlord. While a tenant is expected to respect the rules and regulations of a housing complex, the landlord is obligated to maintain a clean, safe, accessible and peaceful living situation. Connecticut law provides added protection to older adults and persons with disabilities who rent.

Keep in mind that your disability or medical condition cannot legally be a factor when you interview for an apartment. When you interview for an apartment:

  • A housing provider should never ask about your health condition, unless the purpose is to determine your eligibility for special programs, services and equipment that the housing community can provide for you.
  • A housing provider should never require confidential medical records or proof of your ability to live independently.
  • A housing manager should never inform you that supportive services are not allowed or that you can no longer live in the apartment because you need these services.
  • If the housing environment in which you live has barriers, you are allowed to make reasonable requests for modifications, but you may have to pay for them.

A landlord can increase your rent. However, state law protects against unfair rental increases for those who are age 62 and over and persons with a family member (spouse, siblings, parents or grandparents) who permanently live with them and are age 62 or over. The same protections exist for persons who are blind or physically disabled.

If you have landlord or tenant issues, you can contact your local tenants union. If you need investigative or legal assistance, visit the Connecticut Fair Housing Center or call them at (860) 247- 4400. If you have limited income and are in need of legal services, contact Statewide Legal Services.

Medicare and Medicaid Rights

There is often confusion about Medicare and Medicaid among the general public. This should make things clearer:

Medicare is a federal program that provides health coverage for people age 65 and over who have paid into the Social Security system or who are disabled and receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Individuals under age 65 must be disabled for 2 years before they can qualify for Medicare.

Medicaid is a state and federal program that provides health coverage for low-income people who are blind, disabled, or age 65 or over. Medicaid is also available to low-income families and individuals with or without children.

As a Medicare beneficiary or Medicaid member you have the right to:

  • Be fully informed about what is covered under Medicare/Medicaid benefits, what you have to pay, and how to file a complaint when necessary.
  • Receive appropriate care, including emergency treatment when needed.
  • Question medical decisions and seek a second opinion.
  • Talk with your doctor and participate in decisions about your care and treatment choices.

Note that you have a right to hear this information in a way that you can understand. An interpreter can be made available for non-English speakers or for people who are deaf or hearing impaired. You also have the right to get health care that is sensitive to your culture.

If you feel that your rights have been violated in regard to these two programs, you have options:

  • Fair Hearings for Medicare / Fair Hearings for Medicaid.
  • Medicare: The Center for Medicare Advocacy (CMA) works to increase access to comprehensive Medicare coverage and quality health care for older adults and persons with disabilities. Contact The Center for Medicare Advocacy.
  • Medicaid: Statewide Legal Services can provide help with Medicaid coverage and quality health care for persons with low incomes. Contact Statewide Legal Services.
Your Rights to Live in the Community (The Olmstead Decision)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires states to administer services, programs and activities “in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of qualified individuals.”

In the Olmstead Decision, the Supreme Court ruled that people with disabilities have a right to receive care in the most integrated setting appropriate and that unnecessary institutionalization, such as keeping people in nursing homes, violates the ADA. All states must comply with the Olmstead decision.

If you are on Medicaid and reside in a nursing home, but would prefer living in the community with appropriate services and supports, the Money Follows the Person Program, which helps people to live independently in their own home, may be able to assist you.

If you feel your rights are being violated and are in need of legal services, see the Legal Resources section below.

Nursing Home Resident Rights

Federal and state laws guarantee quality care to nursing home residents, ensuring a legal right to privacy, dignity, quality of life, and protection from abuse.

As a nursing home resident you have the right to:

  • Be treated with respect and dignity
  • Receive equal and quality care, regardless of payment source
  • Participate in making decisions about your care and about other aspects of your life
  • Be free from chemical and physical restraints, unless required for medical treatment
  • Manage your own finances or receive help from the nursing home
  • Voice grievances without fear of retaliation
  • Associate and communicate privately with any person of your choice
  • Send and receive personal mail
  • Have your personal and medical records kept confidential
  • Apply for state and federal financial assistance without threats or discrimination
  • Be fully informed prior to admission of your rights, service availability and fees
  • Be given advanced notice and the right to appeal a transfer or a discharge

For concerns over your care, or if you feel your rights have been violated, contact the nursing home administrator or a staff member in charge. You can also contact the CT Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program or call at 1-866-388-1888 (Toll-Free). You can also file a complaint with the Department of Public Health.

Abuse, Neglect and Abandonment

Abuse of older adults and people with disabilities is a major unreported problem in our society. It may include physical, mental and emotional mistreatment, neglect, abandonment and financial exploitation.

Some signs of possible abuse or neglect include:

  • Unexplained bruises, burns or cuts
  • Lack of food in the refrigerator
  • Poor personal hygiene and dirty, cluttered environment
  • Failure to pay essential bills such as rent or utility bills
  • Isolation of the person from other family and friends

If you or someone you know age 60 and older is being abused, neglected or exploited contact the Protective Services for the Elderly Program (PSE) by calling 1-888-385-4225; for out of state, call United Way of Connecticut toll-free at 1-800-203-1234. Administered by the Department of Social Services, PSE social workers respond to reports of elder maltreatment and devise a plan of care aimed at fostering safety while preserving the person’s right of self-determination.

If you or someone you know with a disability is being abused, you can get assistance from Disability Rights Connecticut, Inc.

Financial Exploitation

Financial exploitation is the fastest growing form of abuse. The most common forms of exploitation include: door-to-door solicitation, fraudulent solicitation and identity theft.

Door-to-Door Solicitation

Be on your guard when someone comes to your door selling items or services, soliciting donations or trying to sell you home improvements. Scams providing misinformation or false promises may be common and some individuals may wish to exploit older adults or people with disabilities who may not know the full extent of the services and supports available and their legal rights.

Fraudulent Solicitation

Telemarketing, direct mail, and e-mail are the primary vehicles used by dishonest solicitors. To avoid scams, always be cautious and ask lots of questions. Never give any personal information over the phone or by e-mail to persons or companies that have contacted you. Ask for more information to be sent to you in writing for your review.

Identity Theft

Identity theft can happen to anyone. Thieves take advantage of any opportunity that yields the information needed to steal your identity, your credit, and your good name. The information they seek most includes Social Security numbers, bank and credit card account numbers, assets and earnings, names, addresses and telephone numbers.

To safeguard against exploitation:

  • Ask questions and read information closely.
  • Reject any offer that requires an immediate decision.
  • Do not give out personal and/or financial information over the phone or by e-mail unless you have initiated the call and know the person or company you are dealing with.
  • For home repairs, hire licensed people; check with the town and the Department of Consumer Protection. Ask for references. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed against the person or company.
  • If you’re interested in a solicitation by phone or e-mail, ask for written product or service information. Review the material and then make a decision.
  • Protect personal and financial information by being cautious in public and shredding or ripping up bills and other mail containing personal information.

Contact the Consumer Law Project for Elders (CLPE), at 1-800-296-1467 (Toll-Free).

If you or someone you know is a person with a disability and is a target of exploitation, you can also get assistance from Disability Rights Connecticut, Inc.

Take Action

CT Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program (LTCOP)

Connecticut’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program works to improve the quality of life and quality of care of Connecticut residents living in nursing homes, residential care homes and assisted living communities.

All Ombudsman activity is performed on behalf of, and at the direction of residents. All communication with the residents, their family members or legal guardians is held in strict confidentiality. Call 1-866-388-1888 (Toll-Free), email ltcop@ct.gov or contact the CT Long Term Care Ombudsman Program.

Protective Services for the Elderly (PSE)

This program investigates reports of physical or mental abuse, exploitation or neglect of adults, age 60 and over. Call 1-888-385-4225 (Toll-Free) to express your concerns. For more information, visit the Department of Social Services website about Protective Services for the Elderly in your area.

Disability Rights Connecticut, Inc.

If you are a person with a disability and have complaints about discrimination, abuse or violation of your rights, Disability Rights Connecticut, Inc. (DRCT) can help. This nonprofit organization safeguards and advances the rights of people with disabilities.

The DRCT investigates complaints and allegations of abuse and neglect. It also provides advocacy and referral services, education and training on disability issues and helps seek remedies due to disability-related discrimination.

Visit the Disability Rights Connecticut, Inc. website to learn more.

Legal Resources - Where to Get Help

For additional information on the legal rights and benefits available to older adults and people with disabilities, review the resources below:

Legal Assistance

Connecticut Network for Legal Aid

This network of several nonprofit legal services organizations has a shared mission to improve the lives of Connecticut’s low-income residents by providing free legal services. Their goal is to offer equal access to justice by providing information and self-help materials on a variety of legal issues.

Explore the Connecticut Network for Legal Aid website for contact and eligibility information as well as extensive legal self-help information and tools. Services are free.

Consumer Law Project for Elders (CLPE)

The CLPE Hotline provides free legal assistance, including advice, representation and referrals to people aged 60 and over who have consumer problems or questions about their rights as consumers. Call 1-800-296-1467 (Toll-Free) to be connected with a legal specialist.

Need a Lawyer?

Local and county bar associations offer lawyer referral services to help you find a private attorney in your county. There may be a fee for the referral and for services from private attorneys.

Area Telephone Number
Hartford, Litchfield, Middlesex, Tolland and Windam 1-860-525-6052
Fairfield 1-203-335-4116
New Haven 1-203-562-5750
New London 1-860-889-9384

Other Resources

There are also a number of legal services organizations that provide free legal help to those who qualify. One of the organizations listed below may be able to help. Contact them directly for information about their services and eligibility requirements.

  • Connecticut Legal Services: A nonprofit law firm dedicated to representing, advising and educating low-income individuals and families in matters relating principally to civil law and thereby helping them secure the protections, privileges, benefits, rights and opportunities these laws provides.
  • Greater Hartford Legal Aid: A not-for-profit law firm whose staff helps clients with civil (not criminal) legal issues. They are advocates, primarily lawyers and paralegals, who know how to serve people who have little money.
  • New Haven Legal Assistance: Provides high-quality legal services to individuals, families and groups in the greater New Haven area, including the lower Naugatuck Valley, who are unable to obtain legal services because of limited income, age, disability, discrimination, and other barriers.
  • Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut (SLS): A private, nonprofit corporation dedicated to helping as many low-income people as possible to understand their civil (non-criminal) legal problems. They cooperate with other nonprofit law firms and volunteer attorneys to provide a broad range of legal services to Connecticut’s poor.
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