Governor Brewer Signs HB 2424 – Probate Advisory Panel Becomes Law

Yesterday, Governor Brewer used her mighty pen to sign HB 2424, a key probate reform bill.  The Bill, which will become law 90 days from April 20, passed unanimously just nine days ago.

HB 2424 establishes a landmark “Probate Advisory Panel.”  To read the engrossed version of the bill, click here.

No word yet on the companion reform bill, SB 1499.

“Marie Long one step away from getting her wish”

Marie Long one step away from getting her wish

– Laurie Roberts, Arizona Republic published April 27, 2011

At long last, Marie Long is one simple signature away from getting her wish. Well, one of her wishes anyway.

Undoubtedly, she would wish to have some of her money back, the $821,000 sucked up by guardians and lawyers appointed to protect her from unscrupulous types who might come after an old lady’s life savings.

Marie’s attorneys, who for years have worked for free, are appealing her case. They hope to force Maricopa County’s probate court to reconsider Commissioner Lindsay Ellis’ decision that it was “reasonable” for Marie’s so-called protectors to basically drain an estate once worth $1.3 million, leaving her penniless and dependent on taxpayers for support.

But Marie is 89. She can’t wait forever to see justice. She knows that, which brings me to wish No. 2.
“I would like,” she told me last fall, “that this doesn’t happen to anybody else.”

This week or next, Marie’s wish could be granted, assuming Gov. Jan Brewer signs Senate Bill 1499 – and assuming the county’s probate judges burn their well-worn rubber stamps and remember who it is that they are there to protect.

Credit the Arizona Legislature. In between birther bills and tea party license plates, when they weren’t belatedly disclosing Fiesta Bowl junkets or lopping poor people off the state’s health care rolls, our leaders did a really good thing last week.

They passed a probate bill aimed at better protecting vulnerable people and giving them a voice in what happens to them and their money. The vote was unanimous.

…Unanimous, to allow those under the protection of probate to see monthly bank statements rather than waiting more than a year — or in the case of Marie, three years — to find out how the people appointed to watch over their money have spent it.

…Unanimous, to make it easier for wards to rid themselves of fiduciaries they don’t like. For years, fiduciaries have basically run the court and if you tried to fire them, they got to spend a good chunk of your money fending you off. The bill makes it clear that judges can – and should – remove a fiduciary if it’s in a ward’s best interest.

…Unanimous, to reinforce a recent appellate court ruling that says what should have been obvious all along – that fiduciaries and lawyers can’t run up charges that do nothing to benefit the vulnerable person footing the bill.

That they can’t raise their rates without first disclosing it, as the Sun Valley Group did when CEO Peter Frenette quietly boosted his pay by 26 percent, to $145 an hour, even as Marie’s funds were running low. As attorney Scott Ferris did when he raised his rate by 18 percent to $325 an hour, without telling R.B. Sleeth, whose “protection” included 10 weeks locked away in an Alzheimer’s unit — never mind that he didn’t have Alzheimer’s.

…Unanimous, that judges must in all things consider the “best interest” of the protected person, as they were always supposed to do. Just in case judges forget that — again, that is — the soon-to-be new law repeats it 17 times.

The bill isn’t perfect. Parts of it wouldn’t be needed had probate commissioners acted like judges rather than friends of for-profit fiduciaries.

But SB 1499 is a good start on granting Marie’s wish, that never again should an old lady be “protected” into the poorhouse while a judge does nothing to stop it and in fact actually approves it.

“This is a wake-up call,” said Marie’s attorney Jon Kitchel. “If nothing else, it’s a reminder to the judges that they need to be making decisions …in their (the ward’s) best interest. I think that’s a good thing.”

It is a good thing and I never thought I’d be saying this to the Arizona Legislature, but…

Thank you.

Editor’s note: Roberts’ sister, Arizona Court of Appeals Chief Judge Ann Timmer,  chairs a committee to review probate-court practices. The Republic is disclosing the relationship to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest.

(Column published April 27, 2011, The Arizona Republic)

SUPPORT HB2424 IN SENATE APPROPS!

  Tuesday, March 29 at 2 PM, the Senate Appropriations committee will hear HB2424.  Please call or email and voice your support of this vitally important effort at probate reform! 

Sen. Paula Aboud   (602) 926-5262

Sen. Sylvia Allen  (602) 926-5219

Sen. Andy Biggs  (602) 926-4371

Sen. Olivia Cajero-Bedford (602) 926-5835

Sen. Rich Crandall (602) 926-3020

Sen. Ron Gould (602) 926-4138

Sen. Lori Klein   (602) 926-5284

Sen. Al Melvin  (602) 926-4326

Sen. Rick Murphy  (602) 926-4444

Sen. David Schapira  (602) 926-3028

Sen. Don Shooter  (602) 926-4139

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (602) 926-5058

Sen. Steve Smith (602) 926-5685 

A PERSONAL RESPONSE TO PROBATE REFORM

My grandmother became a ward of the Probate Court (and victim of the system) in 2007 so I have been closely following both SB1499 and HB2424 as they move through the State Legislature.  I can honestly say firsthand that the problems with the Probate System here in Arizona START ON THE BENCH!!  There are several laws that are already in place that have proven to work in the past IF THEY ARE ENFORCED.  The blatant draining of wards estates and assets is more because of judicial oversight and ignorance allowing fiduciaries, and even attorneys, to do what they want and in complete disregard of the existing AZ Laws, Rules, and Procedures they are supposed to be following.  NOT because of families “squabbling” or because “fiduciaries want to hang on to their jobs” like they say.  SB1499 wants to start SANCTIONING family members who file complaints against fiduciaries.  THAT IS UNJUST!!  We are, more often than not, already being denied Due Process and our Constitutional Rights under the First Amendment.  To add a penalty for our efforts to get Justice on top of that?   Are you kidding me?  WHAT IS AMERICA COMING TO?!

When first introduced, HB2424 was a good first move towards reform by the way it focused more on the ward and their family.  However, the more the bill gets amended as it moves forward, the more hope and focus is being taken away from the ward (and their families), and given to the court.   Again, the problems start ON THE BENCH. 

In closing, I want to say that all in all, the problems and chaos in Arizona’s Probate system will never get better until the Judges and Commissioners start upholding the Oath they took when they first took their position on the bench and enforcing the laws that are already in place.   They owe that to WE THE PEOPLE!   And if they don’t…..then things are only going to get worse.  THEY need to consider what is going to happen to THEM and their families 10 years from now WHEN they become in need of “protection” by the AZ Probate System.

A visual guide to probate “process”

For those looking for a visual aid to explain the probate court process, here’s a chart produced as part of the Republic’s investigative series.

 

CRISIS

A descent into Alzheimer’s dementia. A debilitating stroke. Even an addiction.

The outcome: You are rendered temporarily or permanently incapacitated, unable to provide for your own health and personal care or manage your finances. If there is no one willing or able to care for you, Maricopa County Probate Court may step in.

Family or friends

Reliable family members or friends may intervene to oversee your care and finances, honoring any power-of-attorney or trust documents you had prepared. However, if a feud among family members later erupts over your care or money, Maricopa County Probate Court may step in.

 

PETITION TO COURT

Petitioner: Anyone can petition the probate court to have you declared incapacitated – a relative, a friend, a neighbor, a social worker or a certified fiduciary. You lose almost all rights to make decisions about your care, finances and other matters.

Filing costs are billed to your estate.

Judge: A probate judge or court commissioner – a lawyer who goes through less complex judicial selection, but is paid to work as a judge – is assigned to consider the petition.

A paid employee of the court.

 

COURT INQUIRY

The judge appoints various professionals to gather information and ensure your immediate protection.

Investigator: A court employee who investigates whether you are incapacitated and whether someone is willing and able to manage your affairs. The investigator reports findings back to the judge.

Salaried or contracted by the court.

Doctor: This contracted physician interviews you and does other research to determine whether you are incapacitated.
Contracted, paid by the court.

Court-appointed counsel: An attorney appointed by the judge to represent your wishes.

Paid from your assets. Hourly rates are $225-$300.

Guardian ad litem: An optional, court-appointed attorney who represents your interests – regardless of your wishes.

Paid from your assets. Hourly rates are $225-300.

Temporary guardian: A relative, or a private or public fiduciary, temporarily appointed to oversee your personal and health care.

Paid out of your assets. Hourly rates are around $100 for a private fiduciary, $145 for the public fiduciary. A relative also may bill for expenses.

Temporary conservator: A relative, a private or public fiduciary or a financial institution temporarily appointed to manage your financial affairs. May also serve as guardian.

Paid out of your assets. Hourly rates are around $xxx for a private fiduciary, $xxx for the public fiduciary. A relative also may collect for expenses.

 

COURT DECISION

Judge finds you incapacitated

The judge finds you incapacitated as defined by state law: being mentally or physically impaired “to the extent that he lacks sufficient understanding or capacity to make or communicate responsible decisions concerning his person.”

Judge finds you competent

The judge finds that you are capable of making responsible decisions about your own affairs.

The Case is Dismissed
 

ONGOING CARE

Court-appointed counsel:
Continues to represent your wishes.
Paid out of your assets.
Hourly rates are around $225-$300.

Guardian ad litem: May continue to represent your interests.
Paid out of your assets. Hourly rates are around $225-$300.

Guardian: A relative or private or public fiduciary appointed indefinitely to oversee your personal and health care.
Paid out of your assets.
Hourly rates range from $80-$150. A relative also may bill for expenses.

Guardian’s attorney: Represents the guardian’s interests and files with the court documents and pleadings on behalf of the guardian, especially when disputes arise.
Paid out of our assets.
Hourly rates are $175-$350.

Conservator: A relative, a private or public fiduciary or a financial institution appointed indefinitely to manage your financial affairs.
Paid out of your assets.
Hourly rates range from $80-$150.
A relative also may bill for expenses.

Conservator’s Attorney: Represents the conservator’s interests and files with the court documents and pleadings on behalf of the conservator, especially when disputes arise
Paid out of your assets
Hourly rates are $80-$350.

Your Condition Improves

The judge may close the case after finding that your condition and ability to make responsible decisions have improved. All parties billing the estate file their last requests for fee payments, which may involve a negotiation and settlement among parties.

You Die

The judge may close the case and all parties billing your estate will file their last requests for payments. Those may involve negotiation and settlement among parties. The case may not end if fiduciaries seek to continue managing your estate.

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/probate-explained.html#ixzz1HSRyImiL

My Turn in Arizona Republic – “Probate Reform Bill Still Needs Changes”

The Arizona Republic is featuring My Turn on both sides of the probate reform bills before the state Legislature.   Here is the submission from Laura Knaperek about HB2424:

Probate-reform bill still needs
changes 

by Laura Knaperek – Mar. 22, 2011 07:48 PM 

The Probate Victims Bill of Rights, House Bill 2424, is designed to use the power of the courts and the incentives of free-market reform to stop abusive behavior in the system.

However, the bill as passed in the House was amended to appease the courts and is now problematic in several areas, actually giving paid fiduciaries even more authority over the ward.

HB 2424 must be amended as it moves forward, reflecting the goals of the Probate Victims Bill of Rights. Oversight is too important to leave solely in the hands of the courts.The bill, if placed into law, will allow for better-informed consumers and force fiduciaries to compete for business based on price and performance, truly putting the ward’s interests first.

Here’s what the Probate Victims Bill of Rights includes:

– The ability to replace an individual’s guardian, conservator or trustee without cause if it is in the best interest of the ward or protected person.

– The requirement of clear and convincing evidence to determine if an individual needs a conservator.

– A mandate that a conservator produce a monthly accounting of how he or she has spent the ward’s funds.

– A requirement, in the case of a ward paying the bill, that the person being paid has primary duty to the ward.

– The creation of a probate-advisory panel, which would give victims of probate-court abuses a venue to voice issues and concerns and to propose additional statutory changes.

Laura Knaperek is a public-policy consultant and former state lawmaker.

Link:

http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/opinions/articles/2011/03/22/20110322bill-of-rights-knaperek.html

PROBATE VICTIMS BILL OF RIGHTS: Why HB 2424 must pass

The public cries for reform are being met by unbelievable opposition from  “FOR-PROFIT” entities and others who stand to gain financially by maintaining the status quo!

These changes are designed to stop the abuse of vulnerable individuals by those few fiduciaries and guardians that, according to an ABC 2010 investigation choose to “isolate, medicate, and liquidate”.

PLEASE, CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATORS AND ASK THEM TO SUPPORT HB2424!  Say “NO!” to the big-bucks, heavy handed techniques that would prey on the vulnerable and line their pockets with the profits!

PROBATE VICTIMS BILL OF RIGHTS

  • Ability to replace an individual’s guardian, conservator or trustee without cause.  Such a change must be in the best interest of the ward or protected person, and may occur no more than one time in a single year; (current law allows a person’s life savings to be used for the benefit of the guardian, leaving the person broke and on welfare!)
  • Clear and convincing evidence is added as a determining standard to determine if an individual needs a conservator.  This is intended to mirror current law governing the appointment of guardians and trustees; (current law allows hearsay, leaving people in very expensive legal haggling for months, even years before any real evidence is ever given!)
  • Mandates that a conservator produce a monthly accounting of how the conservator has spent the protected individual’s funds. Current law allows too many abuses that can result in the protected individual losing their entire life savings; (currently a report is given to the court with the person’s money spent “on their behalf” but with no accountability!)
  • Guarantees that wards and protected individuals have a right to family visitation, unless the courts find this will place the ward or protected individuals at risk of harm; (currently families can be prevented from visitation on the word of the guardian despite the desires of the person in their care.  Parents have been abused, denied health care, and even died, never seeing their children again despite the pleas of parent and child!)
  • Forces the courts to follow the directives of a ward or protected person, unless the courts determine that such a directive would place the ward or protected individual at risk of harm; (currently the courts ignore the legally established wills and Powers of Attorney, choosing to hand people over to for-profit agencies instead of families and other caregivers.)
  • Mandates that judicial officers receive proper training before they are permitted to hear any cases regarding probate matters; (the rampant abuse of established law, ethical violations, and exploitation that has gone unchecked by the courts, cries out for training in this very specialized area to protect the public.)
  • Establishes the Probate Advisory Panel.  This panel ensures that victims of probate court abuses have an alternative venue to voice heir issues and concerns, and to propose additional improvements to the operations of Arizona probate courts. (There is currently no check and balances for the private citizen other than the very expensive and emotionally debilitating court system.)

 

Forward Motion: HB2424 Passes Rules Committee…OR…David-1, Goliath-0

Despite a full frontal attack by every high-powered political lobbyist money could buy, HB2424, the bill written to reform the troubled Arizona Probate Court System has jumped another hurdle on the way to become law.  When public testimony was taken in the House Judiciary Committee last Thursday, the number of private citizens registered to speak in favor of the bill was so numerous that the time to speak had to be limited.  The only testimony in opposition to the bill was a court liaison, paid with taxpayer money, who objected to the “intrusion” by the legislature into the realm of the judiciary and industry insiders who profit from the current system.

The lingering question was this…if the courts and attorney groups are so good at policing their own, if they understand what is in the best interest of so many and capable of abiding by the current law…what caused the countless horror stories of exploitation and abuse?  If the bad actors are so few, why are the stories, true and accurate accounts, so many?    Just how did Arizona become the prime example of a national need for probate reform?

Apparently the circus of not 1, not 2, not 3,  not 4, but at last least 5 different “paid for hire”  lobbyist that are being paraded through legislative offices equipped to mislead policy makers by the 3 Ds: distract, deflect, and destroy HB2424 cannot compete with the truth and demands of the people for justice.   These fee for service providers joined the masses of paid fiduciaries, trustees and their associations and lobbyists, all fighting to keep a hold on the cash cow we know as vulnerable individuals entrusted to the state courts.         

Today was a good day for the people.

 

We Are The Courts and We Are Here To Help You——

This post  below is from Sonoran Alliance  and is just one of so many stories we know to be true and have heard in the last several months.  Lets just hope the legislature is also listening!

The letter below is just one story of many, the phone number has been removed for the sender’s privacy but the message is the same:

I am sending this to you and others who live in Arizona.  As a few of you know, my 92-1/2 old mother became a ward of the probate court in February 2008.  At the time I knew nothing of the history of the probate court system.  At that time I agreed she would be better off because she was spending too much money on junk coins and other “stuff” salesmen easily sold to a lonely widow who still loves men! My mother did not have a fortune set aside but with reasonable management it would last her and she could stay in her house until she passed. Now, the reality:  The court-appointed conservator, a for-profit company, managed to spend all of her money in about 28 months.  I am her court-appointed guardian so all the conservator had to do was pay normal household bills and try and settle some outstanding bills to those salesmen I mentioned above. We (her family) requested financial information numerous times but the most I received were incomplete schedules which often raised more questions than they answered. After the conservator spent all the money the court released them from that position.  Only at that time, after complaining again, did I get copies of monthly billing statements from the conservator.  (I have never received any financial statements so still do not know all of the liabilities that are still lurking out there.) You could have knocked me over with a feather.  The conservator charged $85 – $95 an hour for entry-level clerical duties.  Accounts payable clerks also were billed at those rates but were not skilled in those positions, so things took longer to get done and often had to be redone.  And, you guessed it, my mother had paid for every single hour. I am only going to give you one example, but it irritates me so much I need to vent a little.  In May 2009 my mother turned 91, and the conservator wanted to throw her a birthday party.  Nice gesture, I thought, especially since my mother’s court-appointed attorney, the other relatives and I understood this was going to be a gift from the conservator.  The party was very nice, but the bill was over $5,000, and as I found out a year later it was billed to and paid for by my mother!!!  House cleaning was charged at $95 per hour.  Invitations were bought and returned at $95 and more per hour plus the cost of the invitations.  The conservator knew my mother’s finances and any reasonable person would know she could not afford that amount of money.

There are two legislative bills that have been introduced this year:  House Bill 2424 and Senate Bill 1499.  THEY COULD NOT BE MORE DIFFERENT.  HB 2424 was put together with input from people who have experienced such financial and other abuses at the hands of the probate courts (I was not involved because I just became aware of the dueling bills.)  It is not perfect but goes a long was in making probate court transactions open to the wards and other interested parties.  SB 1499 was written by a committee set up to fix these probate court abuses.  Too bad the committee members are the same judges, commissioners, attorneys and conservators that are currently committing the abuses.  Talk about the fox watching the hen house!  SB 1499 does not begin to address court reform.  I’m sure the bill was introduced by legislators who had been told by the committee members that only a little “tweaking” was necessary.  This bill is a sham being perpetrated by the people who need to be held accountable. I’m sorry this e-mail is so long, but the word needs to get out that HB 2424 is GOOD, SB 1499 is BAD, BAD, BAD. If you have any questions call me at 602-xxx-xxxx and I will put you in touch with people who can answer them better than I. Thanx for taking the time to read this.  It is a very sore subject with me as my mother sits, not in her house, but in a room and board home paid for by the Arizona Long Term Care System!!!

Bob

THE COURTS vs. THE CITIZENS OF ARIZONA: an Open Letter to Friends of Liberty!

“There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and  in the name of justice.”

Dear Friends of Liberty,
There is a situation in Arizona that defies the concept of liberty held by those who believe in the Rights guaranteed to all Americans; it promotes a rampant removal of those rights and supports a legal, court ordered redistribution of wealth. The victims are often left penniless, helpless, and dependant on costly taxpayer support for the rest of their lives.

* Personal wealth drained by court order through entities that are not subject to accountability, scrutiny or competition, and which legally and systematically takes millions from private citizens.

*Citizens driven to destitution by the courts and the allies of the system. Their personal savings taken under the watchful eye of the courts leaving taxpayers to support them for life!

*The state inserting itself into the role of all-knowing, all possessing and ultimate arbiter of personal relationships and property despite, and often contrary to, the written desires of the individual in their trust or Power of Attorney documents.

What is this that has invaded the rights of private citizens, usurped liberty, deprived due process and increased the burden to the taxpayer?

ARIZONA PROBATE COURT

People from every walk of life, no matter how rich or poor, strong or weak are the victims of this most un-American of actions.  Their stories are being told as the bright light of truth is starting to shine on the issue.  Read the accounts here and here

IF YOU ARE AN ARIZONA TAX-PAYER, THIS AFFECTS YOU!

There is a grassroots movement of people who have personally been subject to the unlawful taking of property, been deprived of the love and companionship of family, and actually abused at the hands of those the court ordered to give them care. They are being joined by people who refuse to accept the probate court actions done in the name of justice.

They are mobilizing to fight and will not stop until true justice prevails. They are making progress but need your help!

THEY MUST NOT STAND ALONE TO FIGHT LEGAL THIEVERY!

The Arizona Legislature will hear House Bill 2424, a bill designed to protect the people not the activist judges and special interest groups that have ignored existing laws to deny liberty to private citizens, while making fortunes in the process. The court system is pushing another “probate reform” bill, SB1499, full of “feel-good language” it does very little to provide remedies for public protection while supporting the status quo. It was written by the very same people who are currently in control of, and often profitting from, the probate system.

HB2424 must pass if the rights of the people are to prevail! Support the effort to remedy this Constitutional assault.

It is the power of the people, standing strong and united, raising their voices in unison toward a common goal that will prevail.

Use your voice to join with ours as we fight to reform the court, stop activist judges, and restore civil rights to all.

Please contact the following legislators and tell them to support HB2424, put the people first!

Rep. Kirk Adams kadams@azleg.gov                                                              

Rep. Steve Montenegro smontenegro@azleg.gov

Rep. Eddie Farnsworth efarnsworth@azleg.gov

Rep. Jerry Weiers jpweiers@azleg.gov

Rep. Debbie Lesko dlesko@azleg.gov                                                                   

Rep. David Smith dsmith@azleg.gov

Sen. Russell Pearce rpearce@azleg.gov                                                               

Sen. Sylvia Allen sallen@azleg.gov

Sen. Scott Bundgaard sbundgaard@azleg.gov                                                  

Sen. Steve Pierce spierce@azleg.gov

Sen. Linda Gray lgray@azleg.gov                                                                            

Sen. Ron Gould rgould@azleg.gov

If you are concerned about this encroachment into personal liberty, private property rights, rights of due process, and the court ordered redistribution of wealth, sign up to receive email updates on this site. We are also on facebook at Arizona Probate Reform and can be reached by email at  AZCOURTHouseSteps@gmail.com.

Please look for future information and be alert for our Call to Action as we seek legislative relief and reform.

Pass this on to those you know who are defenders of liberty!