Category Archives: Emergencies

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Removing a Guardian with Mental Health Powers

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Removing a Guardian with Mental Health PowersIt can be emotionally draining for you when your loved one’s personal rights have been limited. When age, mental or physical illness or other situations affect the ability of the loved one to maintain independence, important decisions (such as choice in doctors, healthcare treatments, where to live, whether he or she can drive a car and what family and friends can visit) need to be made by someone else.

That’s where guardianship can help. To review, a guardian is a person granted the legal authority and responsibility to help another person make decisions that affect his or her wellbeing. A guardian with mental health powers has authority to make decisions specific to mental health care, including whether the ward needs inpatient hospitalization.

Unfortunately, a guardian may not always do a good job fulfilling the delicate and sometimes confusing responsibilities of the position, and may be putting the protected person at risk.

If you find yourself in a situation where a guardian is not acting in the best interest of your loved one, you have the right to petition the court to remove the current guardian and to appoint a replacement.

If this happens, you will need to supply the court with a professional evaluation of the protected person. The quickest way to work with HIPAA and other confidentiality laws (HIPAA refers to The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) is to seek assistance from an experienced probate attorney to file a motion with the court that will require the ward to receive an additional psychiatric examination.

This ruling process typically takes about two or three months. If the situation is an emergency, your attorney can help you file for emergency status to receive a ruling sooner.

The court will make a ruling for removing a guardian and appointing a successor based on the best interest of the ward. This means that the court doesn’t necessarily need to find that the current guardian has acted inappropriately. The court is interested in what is best for the protected person and will support replacing a current guardian with a successor who is better qualified.

The most common mistake that guardians make is not disclosing information to the family and lawyers. If you’re acting as a guardian with mental health powers, make sure you keep lines of communication open between your ward’s family and attorney. Maintain copies of all letters and reports that are sent to involved parties. Preserve meticulous records of expenses you’ve made for which you’ve used the ward’s resources.

Whether you’re a guardian in need of help navigating the responsibilities of the position, or a family member concerned about the care your loved one is receiving, don’t be afraid to talk to an attorney. Attorneys’ experience in navigating the legal system can help you make sure your loved one receives proper care and give you peace of mind.


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Guardianship with Mental Health Powers

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Guardianship with Mental Health PowersDisability, physical or mental illness or alcohol or drug abuse can limit a person’s ability to live an independent life. In such cases, a guardian may be appointed to take care of everyday tasks such as housing, education, medical care, food and clothing. However, this post discusses a guardianship with mental health powers, meaning that the guardian has additional powers to deal with psychological or psychiatric issues.

To review, a guardian has the legal authority and responsibility to make all these decisions on behalf of another (who is legally referred to as a ward, incapacitated person or protected person) to protect his or her well-being. A guardian who has powers over mental health has additional authority to admit the protected person for inpatient mental-health treatment.

Admitting a ward for inpatient therapy is a serious responsibility. Inpatient treatment means the ward will not be free to leave. This limits or removes a U.S. citizen’s constitutional right to liberty and due process. Taking such an action is, understandably, a measure of last resort.

A guardian with “mental health powers” has other responsibilities and obligations of that include:

Making decisions concerning the ward’s mental-health needs. This includes the decision to place a ward in a mental-health treatment facility.

Seeking the advice and assistance of qualified mental health professionals.

Exploring alternatives to inpatient hospitalization. Inpatient hospitalization should be the last resort.

Giving notice of placement. That is, notifying the ward’s attorney of placement of the ward in an inpatient treatment facility within 48 hours.

Providing assessment of the appropriateness of placement. The guardian is responsible to make sure assessment is done every 30 days. A copy of the assessment must be mailed to the ward’s attorney.

Giving the facility the ward’s attorney’s contact information. If the ward is admitted to an inpatient behavioral health treatment facility, the guardian must make sure the facility has the address and telephone number of the ward’s attorney.

Transferring a patient to least-restrictive care once and if inpatient care is no longer needed. The guardian must find alternative care within 10 days after notification from the inpatient facility that the ward is no longer in need of such care. If there are issues in finding alternative placement, the guardian or medical director or both may request the court hold a hearing for assistance.

The longest time that a guardian can admit a ward to inpatient psychiatric facility for mental health care is one year. If inpatient care is required after the year is up, the court will need to grant authorization for an additional year.

If you have questions about guardianship with mental health powers, contact our office. This is a complicated area of law and can be confusing, even for lawyers. We have the experience to help you safely navigate this often-challenging part of life.

In the next post we will look at how to remove a guardian with mental health powers.

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Recovering from Trustee Misconduct

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Recovering from Trustee MisconductBeneficiaries of a trust depend greatly on the trustee to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries and the trust.

Unfortunately, trustees don’t always live up to the duty and responsibility of their position. Beyond creating headaches for family members and other beneficiaries, such misconduct can rob them of their inheritance.

In previous posts we covered the actions that can led to the removal of a trustee [link to post on what qualifies trustee for removal] and how to petition the court to remove the trustee and appoint a successor.

After those important steps, how do you go get back the stolen or misused money? It all depends on whether you are able to trace where the money was sent, if it was spent or if it still exists in some form. Let’s look at an example:

If a trustee used money from the trust to buy a new house, and if that house has not been sold or transferred to someone else, you can get a court order to freeze the property and eventually have it transferred back to the trust.

If the money is gone, there are three ways to recover funds:

  1. Surcharge. This applies if the trustee is also a beneficiary of the trust. In this situation, the former trustee’s inheritance from the estate can be reduced by the amount of any judgment the court passes against him or her. To have a surcharge ordered on a former trustee, you must file what’s known as a “Petition for Surcharge” with the probate court.
  2. Seize assets. If you’re able to trace the trustee’s spending to existing assets (cars, jewelry or other property), or if you’re able to show bank statements showing cash the trustee’s withdrawals from estate funds at ATM machines, the court can place a judgment against the trustee, making it more likely that you will get the money back. If the trustee has spent money on intangible purchases such as vacations, it will be much harder to get the money back.
  3. Personal refund. If the trustee has other personal assets (such as a house or bank accounts), the court can order the former trustee to turn over those assets to compensate for the value taken from the trust.

The process of getting the money returned can be lengthy. It can take from three to six months or more to settle a case recovering losses. The court process involves gathering evidence, and filing a petition with the probate court (this is all part of the steps necessary to remove a trustee).

After the court determines the amount of damages caused by the former trustee, the new trustee or other beneficiaries can then request the court to make further orders. To give an example, let’s say that a former trustee, Roger, owned a house, which used to be owned by the trust. After Roger has been removed from the position of trustee, the court can order that the house belong again to the trust. An attorney for the trust can then get a certified copy of the order and record the ownership of the property with the county recorder in the county where the property is located.

If you’re dealing with a trustee who is mishandling a trust, don’t wait to seek help. An experienced probate litigation attorney can walk you through the tricky and complicated petitioning process. It’s important to have someone knowledgeable on your side who knows the law and the court system.

Your attorney should work closely with you and the court to help you recover lost funds that are justly yours. The probate courts are there to help you and your family. Remember to act quickly and seek the assistance of an attorney. This will increase the likelihood that you will recover your inheritance.

Have any questions about recovering from trustee misconduct? Give us a call. We’d love to help.

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How to Remove a Trustee

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How to Remove a TrusteeNot everyone works out. And you have the right, as a beneficiary of a trust, to petition to remove the trustee of the estate if he or she proves to be incompetent, hostile, dishonest or otherwise unable to fulfill the responsibilities of administering the trust.

Here’s a quick definition of a trustee and a summary of the duties of the position.

A trustee can be a person (or a trust company) who has legal title to property, who holds that property for the benefit of another and who has assumed a legal duty (also called a fiduciary duty) to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries of the trust. As you can imagine, things can go awry.

Here’s an all too-frequent scenario from a recent case:

In a case involving a prominent Phoenix family that operated multiple businesses owned by their trust, the father had passed away a number of years earlier. The mother continued running the businesses, gradually turning over control to her adult children. One of the sons took control of the trust after the mother developed dementia.

The son used the money from the trust to enhance properties he would ultimately inherit. He also bought himself a new car and started taking lavish cruises and vacations.

My clients – the siblings of this trustee – turned to me for help. First they obtained evidence of wrongdoing. In this case, they were able to get copies of checks written from the trust directly to the trustee. This gave us enough to petition the court and get the son removed as trustee and replaced with a private fiduciary.

Trusts can be set up to allow for safeguards in case of wrongdoing. That is, they contain trigger points that can lead to the removal of a trustee.

For trusts that don’t specify a mechanism to remove a trustee, the court recognizes other reasons. Here are three:

  1. If the trustee has committed a breach of the fiduciary duties of care over the assets or loyalty to the beneficiaries. Examples include failing to pay taxes, stealing assets, and not following the specifications of the trust.
  2. If the trustee is unfit, unwilling or persistently fails to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries and the trust, the court can remove the trustee.
  3. In come cases, the circumstances surrounding the trust can change significantly or all qualified beneficiaries can request the removal of the trustee. The court can review the case and remove the trustee if it deems this for the best interest of the beneficiaries, as long as this isn’t inconsistent with the original specifications and intent of the trust.

If you are the beneficiary of a trust, it’s important to know what to do if the assets are being mismanaged. Trusts are normally very private affairs. In addition, trusts, being civil matters, are outside the jurisdiction of the police. There’s typically no court supervision and no government regulation to make sure that the trust is being run properly. It’s up to you and your attorney to pay attention to how a trust is being managed.

You need to take immediate action if you believe money is being misused. Proactive action increases your ability to protect your inheritance. Contact an experienced probate attorney at the first indication that a trustee is unethical or irresponsible with trust assets.

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How to Handle Estate Emergencies After a Loved One Passes Away

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How to Handle Estate Emergencies After a Loved One Passes AwayDealing with the death of a loved one is always difficult. But death isn’t always the hardest part for the survivors. Many family members are surprised by the challenges and conflicts that arise after the funeral when the family works to settle the estate. If you find that you cannot resolve a conflict regarding your loved one’s estate, you may need to seek assistance from an experienced probate attorney.

I’ve worked with many families in which bickering siblings made emotionally charged and hasty decisions when they distributed the personal property of a deceased parent. It often ended in chaos. Often, I’ve found that executors or trustees grossly mismanage bank accounts and other assets, and consequently deprive remaining family members of their portions of their parent’s legacy.

Naturally, everyone wants the administration of a deceased person’s property and money to be orderly and methodical. But if it isn’t, and if you feel the situation is on the verge falling apart or has already deteriorated into an estate emergency – through misunderstandings or power struggles or other complicated interpersonal relationships – you have two legal options:

  1. Get a personal representative or executor appointed by the court (if one hasn’t already been appointed), or
  2. Petition for an immediate protective order from the court (if the appointed representative or executor is mismanaging the estate).

The biggest mistake I see families make when they try to resolve arguments about distributing their deceased loved one’s belongings and property is to take the law into their own hands. It’s vitally important that you go through proper legal channels to handle an estate. This avoids later flare-ups and also ensures an orderly distribution of assets and legacies. Take these essential steps:

  1. Secure the estate’s property until an executor or personal representative is appointed. If necessary, enlist the help of a third-party fiduciary to do this by being appointed as a Special Administrator. (The police will not intervene in family-estate issues.)
  2. File for an immediate protective order from the court with the assistance of an experienced probate attorney.
  3. Have a representative or executor appointed to manage the estate.

With a qualified representative or executor is in place an estate can be settled according to the will or trust that a loved one has left in place. Without quick action and the help from a special administrator, you risk a delay in probate proceedings and the disappearance of personal property.

If, after your loved one has died, you find that his or her estate is not being administered fairly or methodically, you may have an emergency on your hands. Be prepared to take immediate action if you suspect foul play or mismanagement of personal property in these instances. Talk to a probate lawyer right away.

Delayed action may leave you with no inheritance and no recourse. Working with an experienced estate attorney will not bring your loved one back, but it will ease your mind knowing that your late loved one’s wishes will be carried out.

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Handling Emergencies in Guardianships and Conservatorships in Arizona

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Handling Emergencies in Guardianships and Conservatorships in ArizonaIf you notice certain changes in an aging family member, it might be time to seek outside help. When a loved one can no longer make intelligent decisions about his or her healthcare, housing, finances or legal matters an emergency guardianship or conservatorship may be the solution.

Emergency guardianships and conservatorships are legal mechanisms created under the direction of the court to assist a person who has become incapacitated or debilitated.

The roles of guardian and conservator in Arizona are similar but distinct.

  • Guardianships concern specifically healthcare, living arrangements and other personal issues.
  • Conservatorships  deal with financial decisions.

A guardianship or conservatorship may be necessary if your loved one has a debilitating condition such as dementia and someone needs to step in immediately to take care of things. For example, if your loved one is not paying bills, or is wasting money, a conservator might be appointed to assume these financial decisions and responsibilities.

On the other hand, a guardian might be appointed if your loved one is continuing to drive even though it’s dangerous. Similarly, if your loved one is no longer safe at home but refuses to move, you may need to be appointed as guardian to make this decision concerning where your loved one should live.

Sometimes the court needs to get involved even when there is a healthcare power of attorney or general power of attorney. For example, I represented a family of three brothers whose mother was in hospice. One of the brothers was granted power of attorney for health care, and his mother’s living will provided him with the authority to act for her. But without communicating to his brothers, this son put the mother in a hospice where food and fluids were withheld, contrary to the mother’s wishes. (Can you imagine? This older lady was able to communicate that she wanted to eat and drink but the son instructed the hospice to withhold all food and fluids.)

The two brothers learned of their mother’s situation and came to her aid. Within 72 hours of contacting me, we were able to work with the probate court and appoint one brother as temporary guardian. He restored care to the mother, taking her out of an untenable situation and ultimately saving her life.

I’ve also helped clients in cases where an emergency conservatorship was necessary to protect the financial health of a loved one when someone was misusing or stealing money.

Every situation is different.
Searching for solutions can be incredibly frustrating and difficult.
But you don’t have to do it alone. Working with an experienced attorney, you’ll take comfort from knowing there is a solution to your situation.

Since 1998 I’ve been helping clients resolve both simple and complex issues and have helped them find resolution and peace of mind. We’d love to help you, too.

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What Is a Guardianship?

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What Is a GuardianshipSince life expectancy has increased over the last two decades., a growing group of Americans will likely need some kind of long-term assistance. An important part of preparing for the future should you become unable to care for yourself is designating a health care agent and (if needed) a legal guardian. Having a health care power of attorney can usually avoid the need for someone to get appointed as a guardian through the court system. However, sometimes despite your best attempts at planning, someone will need to go to court and be appointed as your guardian.

A legal guardianship is a legal action in which someone is appointed by a court as a guardian to make decisions regarding healthcare and personal well-being for another person (who, in legal terms, is referred to as an “Incapacitated Person” or ward). These decisions can include living arrangements, medical care and whether the family should be able to visit.

Guardianship is a big responsibility, and it can sometimes be challenging. For example, I once represented a man who was caring for his mother as her legal guardian. They both lived in the Phoenix area. This man’s brother and sister, who lived in Michigan, wanted their mother to move out to live with them. Their mother was being well taken care of and was happy in Phoenix. This could have proved difficult, with different children wanting different things for their parent. But through working with my client on aspects of his guardianship, we were able to arrange a visitation schedule for the family, similar to child-custody arrangements common in divorce situations.

Guardianship is not that well-known a function among the general public. And common misperceptions and misconceptions exist.

• One is that the guardian is legally obligated to use personal resources to support the ward. This is incorrect. A guardian’s legal obligation is to use the ward’s resources to support the ward, not the guardian’s personal assets.

• Another is that the guardian assumes liability for the actions of the ward. This is not true except in cases where, say, the guardian gives a car or a gun to the ward. If the ward crashes the car or shoots someone with the gun, the guardian can be held liable if the guardian should have known that allowing the ward to have the car or gun was dangerous.

A guardian is required to sign a document called an Order to Guardian and Acknowledgement, which outlines the guardian’s responsibilities. A guardian should this document carefully and refer to it during the guardianship to prevent errors, and ensure that all responsibilities are being followed.

Here are two common mistakes that many guardians make:

  1. Failure to file an annual guardian’s report with the court. If you do not file this report, you will have to attend a hearing and explain why the report was not filed.
  2. Failure to restrict access to family and others when appropriate. This can justify removal of the guardian if the guardian is acting out of spite or maliciousness (as opposed to protecting the ward from people who may be dangerous).

As we age, our needs change. A health care power of attorney is an important part of a well-planned estate to make sure a person’s needs will be met as they arise. But sometimes this document can’t be found, or there is a dispute over who should be making the decisions.  In that case, someone needs to go to court to be appointed as a guardian. Just as it can be a delicate situation to consider making a will or plan an estate, it can be difficult to approach one’s parents about needing help now or in the future. It’s important to be proactive and address these issues sooner rather than later.

That’s where you come in. Remind your parents that you care about them and that you want to do what’s best to promote their health and well being, both today and in the months and years to come. And sometimes you need to make the tough call and get appointed as guardian even if your mom or dad does not want to give up control over their personal or health care decisions.

Remember that you aren’t alone. This is a common situation faced by adult children caring for their elderly parents.

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