Why Probate Court Cuts are Bad News for CT

February 27, 2015

When any governor releases a biennial budget proposal it sometimes takes a fine tooth comb to fully uncover and understand all the changes being proposed.

Deep within the budget this year, buried in an appendix section, one significant hidden cut emerged. This $32 million cut was no trivial reduction in funding. Rather, it was the outright elimination of state funds for Connecticut’s Probate Court system, a cut that would seriously cripple vital social services if passed into law.

The Probate Court system in Connecticut is responsible for overseeing a wide range of issues. Traditionally, the system handles issues of probate, administration of estates, wills and distribution of assets. In recent years, the system has also handled cases involving children or adults who need to be cared for by others. This includes issues related to mental health, absent parents, adoptions, substance abuse, and intellectual disabilities.

The Probate Court is the court of the people. It is a core function of state government. Despite the clear importance of the Probate Court in so many walks of life, the Governor’s proposal would cut all state funding. That totals $14.8 million in fiscal year 2016 and $17.4 million in fiscal year 2017.

By eliminating all state funding, the court system would be forced to operate solely on the fees collected from the people who utilize the courts. These fees are not nearly enough to cover all operating expenses. On top of this, the courts would still be expected to provide the same level of services they do currently. Last year, Probate Court expenses totaled over $42 million. The probate fees collected from the public only totaled $31 million. And even with state funding, the court system was still unable to cover all expenses.

Eliminating $32 million in funds that Probate Courts rely on leaves only one unsettling option: Probate Courts may be forced to raise fees to cover costs. A fee that averages $150 currently, for example, would have to increase to nearly $800 just to self-sustain the system.

Increasing fees would burden vulnerable citizens who need social service support offered by Probate Courts. This includes families who need to get a loved one mental health care or substance abuse treatment, people with intellectual disabilities that need help managing their finances, and children who need to be removed from the care of unfit parents and provided with new guardianship.

Connecticut’s Probate Courts have been around for over 300 years. They play a vital role in our society and are a necessary part of government. To completely eliminate all funding for these courts is a dangerous move that skirts the state’s responsibility to some of the most vulnerable.

To learn more about the CT Probate Court system visit: www.ctprobate.gov/Pages/Welcome.aspx

If you would like to share your thoughts on this proposal or any other part of the governor’s proposed budget, here’s how you can get your voice heard:

1. Send an email to the legislature’s Appropriations Committee at APPtestimony@cga.ct.gov
2. The email can be as brief as you like, but send it as soon as you can.
3. Copy me on the email at Kevin.Witkos@cga.ct.gov
4. In the email’s subject line, put House Bill 6824. (That’s the number of the governor’s budget bill.)
5. Share this information with friends. Many taxpayers are not aware of how they can make their voices heard by state officials.