Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 1998-30

Advisory Opinion No. 1998-30
Advisory Opinion No. 1998-30

 Application of Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(c) to State Employee
Named as Beneficiary or Executrix/or Under Client’s Will

Karen Davies, Director of Human Resources for the Eastern Region of the Department of Mental Retardation ("DMR"), has asked whether the naming of an agency employee as a beneficiary or executrix/or in a client’s will constitutes a conflict of interest under the Code of Ethics for Public Officials, Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-79 et seq.

Connecticut General Statutes 1-84(c) prohibits a state employee from using his or her office or position for financial gain. The State Ethics Commission has previously held that an inappropriate use of position exists where, for example, a state employee accepts a tip from a private individual for a job well done. See Advisory Opinion No. 89-20, 51 Conn. Law J. 7, p. 3C (8/15/89). A similar concern is raised with the acceptance of a bequest by a DMR employee from a DMR client (or from a client’s relative or friend), where the will was drawn up while the client was subject to the influence, control and/or authority of the state employee. In fact, the potential use of office is even greater where, as here, the decision-making of the DMR client and/or family member or friend may be influenced by the sometimes very personal and emotional issues that can be addressed by the DMR employee in the course of his or her official relationship with the client. This concern is magnified by the potentially vulnerable population with which a DMR employee may work. Therefore, absent a compelling factual situation not addressed by this opinion, and based on the Commission’s precedent regarding additional compensation, it is a violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-84(c) for a DMR employee to accept a bequest under a will which was made while the client was under the employee’s influence, control and/or authority. Although the same rule would apply even if the employee thereafter retires from state service and subsequently learns of the inheritance, it would not be a violation of the Code of Ethics for a former DMR employee to accept a bequest if the DMR client executed the will after that employee had retired from state service and therefore no longer had official responsibilities with regard to the client.

Turning to the second issue, a DMR employee who is named as the executor or executrix of a will by a client he or she is serving also faces the possibility of personal financial gain. The documentation necessary to settle the estate, including the inventory of the estate, is prepared by the executrix/or, who can claim a fee for the work performed. Under the Code of Ethics, a DMR employee who wishes to accept this responsibility could perform these fiduciary duties on his or her own time, but should accept only out-of-pocket reimbursement of expenses, and should not personally accept a fee from the estate.

By order of the Commission,

Stanley Burdick,

Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:02:27 AM