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Guardianship precautions

Arizona law provides for guardianships for those who cannot care for themselves or handle their day-to-day needs because of advanced age, illness or other incapacities. However, a recent case involving four people were charged with seven different felonies concerning guardianship vividly illustrates the need for proper planning and precautions for appointing a legal guardian and estate planning.

Normally, family members or friends assume this important fiduciary duty. However, courts may appoint other individuals if friends or relatives or unavailable to serve this role.

One woman from New York was allegedly able to assume control of strangers' financial and health matters in Nevada. She and her cohorts identified victims through doctors' offices and rehabilitation centers, arrive unannounced with valid court documents and inform them that they could no longer take care of themselves and they were taking over their business and personal decisions. After taking inventory of their personal possessions, they would sell their property, cars and other property and transfer their cash to their bank accounts.

This took place over 12 years and involved 400 victims who were often taken away from their homes. Until it was too late, the victim's relatives did not know what was happening. The woman, her lawyer, husband, and the business partner were ultimately indicted on 270 counts of seven separate felony charges.

Guardianship laws have improved in this country over the last 30 years. However, guardianship requires more monitoring to assure that the welfare of an incapacitated person is protected.

Precautions against mistreatment are available. In addition to a will, a power of attorney and health care directive can memorialize the person's wishes and protect their interests.

A power of attorney grants one or more individuals with access to financial accounts and authorizes them to make decisions when the person is incapacitated. A healthcare directive grants similar authority for health care decisions.

These documents should be updated to assure that a willing and competent caretaker is able to serve. Failure to complete these documents can leave important decisions to courts and their appointed guardians.

Pre-packaged forms or internet forms may not address specific circumstances or comply with Arizona law. However, an attorney can prepare legally-sound documents that help protect a person's wishes and eliminate future litigation or confusion. Lawyers can also review a person's situation and prepare a full estate plan.

Source: Business Insider, "There's a legal way for someone to take your home, your stuff, and your money-but everyone ignores the two documents that can help keep your safe," Aine Cain, Oct. 8, 2017

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