Bess Christiana's probate case was a routine one - uncontested and with a modest estate.
Christiana, who fell ill in 2009, needed someone to sell her house, pay her bills and manage her health care.
Over nine months, from February through October, the total charges billed to the Sun City West woman's estate for her care came to $101,259, including $35,441 for a private fiduciary. The fiduciary fees were far higher than she would have paid in probate courts in Austin and Tampa.
Christiana's entry into Maricopa County Probate Court began when the elderly and ailing woman became too much for her daughter, Paula Wright, 63, to care for on her own. Wright said her mother needed more care than she could provide during her visits.
Wright selected Premier Advocacy and Management Services, a for-profit private fiduciary, to take charge of her mother's affairs. She also selected her mother's care home, Freedom Inn at Sun City West.
Christiana's assets, including her house, totaled about $300,000, and her income averaged $3,500 a month, enough to cover the cost of her private room and nursing care for the rest of her life.
The only problem was the first fiduciary bill. From February through October, the private fiduciary charged Christiana $35,441 or an average of $3,938 a month.
Wright said she was "taken aback" when she received a copy of her mother's fiduciary bill, but has neither the finances nor the emotional strength to fight it. "It seems very high," said Wright, who took care of her mother's finances for two years. "I thought it was excessive."
Nine employees of the private fiduciary business billed hourly rates ranging from $65 to $115 to handle Christiana's finances, billings show. These employees included three licensed fiduciaries, an accountant and five clerical assistants. Christiana's costs also included a service company to manage her health care at $90 an hour, a client assistant to run errands and a certified public accountant to complete her taxes.
For the same nine months, the fiduciary's attorney also billed Christiana's estate $4,175.
Premier Advocacy and Management Services is co-owned by Pamela Johnston, a member of the Arizona Supreme Court probate committee looking at whether courts should impose more controls on fiduciary fees. Johnston also is a member of the state Fiduciary Board, which licenses and regulates fiduciaries.
Johnston said she could not talk about Christiana's or any individual case, but said the first year of caring for any new client is always going to be the most expensive year and, in most cases, her fiduciary fees decrease after the first year.
"It depends a lot on the circumstances, family dynamics and the placement of the ward," Johnston said. In a written statement to the judge, Johnston said the estate required "extraordinary services," including preparing Christiana's house for sale and moving personal items to Freedom Inn.
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