Arizona Senate Moves Reform To Probate Courts

justice court
(Photo by Tim Evanson/Creative Commons)

In what can only be described as a bold and broad reaching effort to reform a system that has made headlines for decades, Sen. John Kavanagh and Rep. Quang Nguyen are working to overhaul the laws that have been characterized as creating an environment that is ripe for corruption and abuse.

On the Senate floor Tuesday, February 28th, SB1038 passed with bipartisan support in a 27-2 vote with SB1291 passing with broad bipartisan support on Wednesday, March 1st. Both bills are now headed to the House of Representatives and are the product of hours of cooperative efforts between advocates, court representatives, and lawmakers in an effort to correct the issues that have brought stories of abuse, loss of freedom, familial separations, and tremendous loss of personal finances and liberty.

Since the 2014 story of Marie Long, once a millionaire, who died destitute due to the abuses from her court appointed guardian and conservator was covered by Laurie Roberts and the Arizona Republic, advocates have fought for changes to this system. While minor changes were achieved a decade ago, the effort to repair what remained broken in the system did not end. Advocates have since shared stories of being denied due process, personal freedom, family visitation with elderly parents, with a loss of financial freedom, and physical neglect in care homes among other issues.

The grassroots effort advocating for the reform current Arizona laws that guide the probate courts has been championed by Sherry Lund, who founded the advocacy group “5 14 Protecting Liberty” dedicated to reforming probate laws nationwide through abiding by the intent of both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Lund is unwavering in her commitment and said, “The Constitution is the law of our land, we cannot allow court rules or state statutes, or failure to follow those court rules and state statutes, to override our Bill of Rights by denying individuals their due process, respect for their personal directives, and a jury of their peers. It’s important to express my gratitude to the courts for their collaboration in this process of working toward a goal that is so needed. All involved agree, the time is now for these changes to our laws.”

The pair of bills look to achieve a two-fold approach to addressing the issues proactively, taking care of immediate needs and looking to the future for continued improvement. SB1038 is a forward reaching bill and returns the Probate Advisory Panel, with the responsibility to file an annual report to the legislature for continuous improvement in the probate process as they are identified. Addressing issues known to need immediate attention, SB1291 will require an increased level of evidence needed before a private citizen can have their individual rights restricted and codify into law the necessity for the individual’s directives, Power of Attorney and valid directives, to be a priority in determining who can be named a guardian or conservator.

Senator John Kavanagh-R, sponsor of both bills, speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday called probate law “very complicated” and had this to say, “We are working with the courts, with attorneys, with people who are involved with probate rights. It’s an area that really deserves good study.”

After the passage of SB1291 on Wednesday Sherry Lund said, “With over $50 billion in assets under management of guardians or conservators, the threat of corruption is real. People have been waiting for decades for these reforms, all the while they are separated from their families, unable to make even the most basic decision for themselves, and some have even had their personal wealth liquidated. The Advisory Panel is a huge accomplishment, but we cannot wait for a year to address the issues we know are a problem today. The combination of both bills is what will be required to ensure people are protected and probate law in Arizona is Constitutionally sound.”

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  1. Yes very costly and when the judges don’t even listen to the testimony nor enforce what was agreed upon, its frustrating.

  2. Probate cases cost $11K -$12K minimum in court and legal fees.
    It’s an industry for theives.

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