Arizona Republic Probate Investigation
If you read the Arizona Republic, you probably noticed a huge investigation they released last year about the Arizona probate system and a few particular families who suffered through conservatorships and guardianships.
The probate court system is mainly used for 2 big areas:
- Managing the property and care of adults who cannot take care of themselves, and
- Transferring property to heirs.
This investigation focused on the first area. In that part of the probate court, people who cannot take care of themselves due to health or mental disease, are assigned a “guardian” to make decisions regarding daily care. If the person has money or assets that need to be managed, then the court may also assign a “conservator” to manage the money. The same person can sit in both roles.
The court will also appoint a private attorney to represent the incompetent person. Here is where the fun begins. If the incompetent person has assets (money in the bank, real estate, retirement, etc.) this court appointed attorney will charge his or her regular hourly rate to the incompetent person. If there are no assets, this private attorney is paid a meager wage from the county.
How is this all avoided? Sometimes it is as simple as having a valid, current general durable power of attorney & health care power of attorney. A better method is to have a revocable living trust & health care power of attorney because banks and financial institutions have been known to refuse to honor just a power of attorney.
New probate rules and laws have been enacted in an attempt to improve the system. But only time will tell if the new rules actually improve the process or simply make probate cases more expensive for everyone.