Monday, September 27, 2010

Probate Court Exploitation in Maricopa County, AZ


One of the areas of the law that I find most interesting that I have only a passing familiarity with as the law currently exists is Probate Law.  I've covered a number of cases over the last year where lawyers or others have ransacked estates or exploited the aged or beneficiaries of testamentary estates for their own personal gain.  The dark advice when I was a young Bad Lawyer was: practice Probate Law, your clients can rarely complain--because, they are dead or incompetent.  Probate Law deals with not only decedent estates but it is intimately involved in the administration of guardianships and other forms of financial estates for handicapped or aged persons. 

Technically, the word "probate" means proof and refers to the process where a court looks at whether a will or trust is "true" in the sense of being the Will or Trust instrument of the person who purported to sign (or "execute') the document.  In reality, Probate courts have jurisdiction or power to decide all sorts of matters relating to property utilizing the tools of the old courts of "equity."  During the English common law era, courts of law and courts of Chancery had separate jurisdiction, in the modern era in America, under the rules of civil procedure these jurisdictional distinctions have been "merged" with codified probate laws.  While there are differences from state to state there are also many similarities based on "uniform" codes enacted by most states.

The coverage of issues in the Maricopa County Probate Court by AZCentral.com is worth reading.  As with all things, Maricopa, the problems there mirror the problems in OurCounty, and in your county.  Over the next year I plan to focus on the issue of lawyers, judges and others involved in elder abuse.  It will be a theme of this blawg, with the point being that we all hope to live long, healthy, and prosperous lives. 

The Arizona Republic found that the Maricopa County Probate Court has allowed probate estates to become "cash machines" for those who would abuse the elderly and handicapped.  The Republic's investigative work has identified four issues:  1. Familial and other disputes trigger the problems of system-exploitation with "fees mounting quickly;" 2. Cozy relationships among the lawyers, Judges, and probate vendors cost the vulnerable and beneficiaries excessively; 3. Persons objecting to the rapacious practices of these exploiters end up getting blamed; and 4. Oversight is lax.

Gotta change this system, before we all get old.

16 comments:

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  5. the commissioners are
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