Becoming the legal guardian and/or conservator of an incapacitated adult in Arizona is quite a process, typically spanning a minimum of two months initial court process, with yearly filing requirements after the Court appoints the guardian or conservator.
Upon filing a Petition to become a guardian or conservator, the Court will appoint an attorney to represent the incapacitated adult and vocalize the alleged incapacitated person’s wishes at the hearing (if possible). The Court will also send out a Court Investigator to investigate and meet with the people involved in this matter and provide a neutral report to the judge recommending the outcome the Court Investigator believes to be in the alleged incapacitated person’s best interests. Due to the involvement of these additional “players”, absent an emergency, a hearing is often scheduled 6-8 weeks after filing the Petition to ensure sufficient time for everyone to accomplish their assigned task. In some cases, the Court may also appoint a second attorney for the alleged incapacitated person, known as a Guardian Ad Litem, to represent the person’s best interests in the litigation.
The reason for these additional “players” is because guardianship and conservatorship proceedings strip the alleged incapacitated person of his or her civil rights. A person who is the subject of guardianship proceedings is at risk of losing the right to decide where they live, choose their medical providers or medical treatment plans. Driving rights and voting rights may also be taken away. Similarly, a person who is subject to a conservatorship can no longer determine how their money is spent, invested or otherwise managed.
In recent news, Courts in Nevada, Michigan and South Carolina are carefully scrutinizing their guardianship procedures after disturbing reports of alleged incapacitated people being removed from their homes by Court appointed guardians who they’ve never met, without notice and without a lawyer to represent them. Their belongings were then sold or donated and the proceeds therefrom were spent without any oversight (you can read the full article here: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/10/09/how-the-elderly-lose-their-rights).
In fact, just last month, the Nevada Supreme Court appointed 20 people to the Permanent Guardianship Commission. The commission will make recommendations to the Nevada Supreme Court for rules on administering guardianship cases and provide oversight for implementation of new guardianship reform laws. The reforms include appointing an attorney to represent each incapacitated person.
While it may seem to be a drawn-out process, Arizona Courts have long since recognized the potential for wrongdoing and have determined that appointing an attorney for the proposed incapacitated person as well as assigning a Court Investigator will help safeguard a person’s civil rights.
If you need to pursue guardianship and/or conservatorship over someone, we can help. We have over 15 years of experience in handling contested and uncontested guardianship and conservatorship matters. Call us at 480-922-1010.
-Rachel S. Zaslow, Esq.