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.
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.
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:
Make sure to appoint someone you trust who will honor your wishes, be available when needed, and advocate on your behalf
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
You can revoke your anatomical gift only by a signed statement.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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 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:
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 is the fastest growing form of abuse. The most common forms of exploitation include: door-to-door solicitation, fraudulent solicitation and identity theft.
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.
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 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:
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the CT Long Term Care Ombudsman Program.
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.
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.
For additional information on the legal rights and benefits available to older adults and people with disabilities, review the resources below:
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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