Sweeping proposals designed to provide greater protection and accountability for the finances of incapacitated people and estates in probate are making their way through Arizona's court system.
The proposals are a result of widespread media reports of lawyers and fiduciaries mismanaging and depleting the life savings of men and women, mostly frail elderly, while charging high fees. The Probate and Mental Health Department of the Superior Court was designed to protect some of the state's most vulnerable people.
Advocates of reform said probate judges lacked the background and experience necessary to render fair rulings. And they said disputes between relatives often lasted months, if not years, in the system.
Jayme Mason, of Phoenix, was one of those engaged in a protracted probate battle. For four years, she disputed the way in which her grandmother's care and estate were being handled. During that time, Mason claims most of her now 93-year-old grandmother's property and possessions — once worth $2 million — were spent or devalued. Even her valuable coin collections disappeared.
Just how many of these heart-wrenching, complex cases of abuse have occurred in Arizona is not known. There are no statistics or estimates.
"There were just a few of those cases, but they were high-profile and … heartbreaking," said Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch.
As a result, Berch appointed a 19-member commission of jurists and laypeople last year to recommend ways of improving judicial oversight and processing in probate courts. The committee looked at probate systems in at least five other states — Texas, Florida, Minnesota, California and Idaho. Some of the proposed reforms are Arizona's alone.
Court officials now are making their way through the commission's proposed reforms in its 432-page report.
The proposals include:
•Requiring "good faith" cost estimates for services and expenses, budgets and monthly statements to avoid any sticker shock at the end of a year.
•Setting fee guidelines for probate lawyers and fiduciaries.
•Creating a first-in-the-nation sustainability review by the courts to determine whether a person's assets would be sufficient to cover expenses during his or her normal lifespan. Future decisions on expenditures would be made accordingly.
•Instituting a follow-up system by the courts to ensure that individuals are being treated properly.
•Implementing training programs for those involved in probate cases. The cost of the proposals has not been determined.
Full Article and Source:
After Abuses,ProbateReform Looms
Note: Jayme Mayson is a NASGA member.