Facts About the Office of the Maricopa County Public Fiduciary
The Office of the Maricopa County Public Fiduciary (“Public Fiduciary”) was established in 1974 by the Arizona Legislature.
A.R.S. § 14-5601 provides: ”Each County Board of Supervisor shall, by resolution or ordinance, create the office of and appoint a public fiduciary.”
It is the responsibility of the Public Fiduciary to serve as court-appointed Guardian, Conservator and Personal Representative for individuals and estates when no other person or corporation qualified and willing to serve is found.
As Guardian, Conservator, and/or Personal Representative, the Public Fiduciary protects the legal rights and financial interests of vulnerable adults and administers the estates of deceased persons. The Public Fiduciary is an independent and impartial public official whose role in serving as Guardian and Conservator is to balance protection with autonomy, thereby enabling people to live in the manner they choose and according to the dictates of their conscience, with support of family and friends. The Public Fiduciary is accountable to clients, the Court and the public at large.
The Public Fiduciary’s staff of Guardian and Estate Administrators perform a combination of legal, financial, human service and investigative functions. The office administers approximately 1150 Guardianships, Conservatorships, decedent estates and investigations per year. The office also directs the Maricopa County Indigent Burial Program.
The Public Fiduciary is frequently appointed by the Probate Court to conduct an investigation and to recommend to the Court what action should be taken. The Public Fiduciary’s Office generally prefers to investigate the case prior to any Court appointment in an effort to explore alternatives with family, friends, caseworkers and attorneys. The Public Fiduciary is frequently appointed successor Guardian, Conservator, or Personal Representative in matters involving breach of fiduciary duty. A very important aspect of Public Fiduciary oversight is his investigation for exploitation of the vulnerable adult, upon reasonable suspicion. The current administration has assumed a very active role in this regard.
Cases are referred to the Public Fiduciary by physicians, hospitals, nursing homes, attorneys, Adult Protective Services, professional fiduciaries, the Social Security Administration, the Arizona State Hospital and members of the general public. Upon receiving a case referral, an intake investigator gathers the information, visits the prospective client, family members and interested persons, and makes recommendations whether to accept or decline the case. The Intake Investigator’s recommendation assesses such things as the individual’s personal care and placement costs, asset and investment status, and the need and eligibility for public benefits.
That a person is elderly, mentally ill, developmentally disabled, or physically disabled does not necessarily indicate a need for Guardianship or Conservatorship. In many cases, alternatives to Guardianship can and should be used. Guardianship or Conservatorship should be considered a last resort. It should never be used in a retaliatory manner or as a convenience for a health care provider, family member or others. Guardianship or Conservatorship is an extreme form of intervention in a person’s life, as it takes control over personal and/or financial decisions for an indefinite, often permanent period of time. A Guardianship or Conservatorship constitutes a severe restriction of an individual’s liberty. Once established, it can be extremely difficult to revoke a Guardianship or Conservatorship, even if the Guardian or Conservator believes it is no longer necessary.
Although many of the referrals received by the Public Fiduciary’s Office meet the criteria for a Guardianship or Conservatorship,
there is often not a demonstrated need or necessity for the person to have a Guardian or Conservator.
In determining whether to accept the case and petition for Guardianship or Conservatorship,
the Public Fiduciary evaluates the following questions:
- Is the person currently at physical risk?
- Will the person suffer a financial loss if there are assets that are not protected?
- Is the Public Fiduciary’s appointment an advantage to the person’s situation?
If the appointment of a Guardian or Conservator is necessary and appropriate, a petition is prepared for filing with the Court. The Maricopa County Public Fiduciary is represented in these proceedings by the Civil Division of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
The Public Fiduciary serves without bond per state statute and has a claim against the estate for an annual assessment
in lieu of bond of $25.00 and one-forth of one percent of the amount of the estate greater than $10,000.
A.R.S. 14-5604(A)(3). The Public Fiduciary also has a claim against the estate for its expenses and fees and the expenses and fees of its attorney.
A.R.S. 14-5604(A)(2). The Public Fiduciary has an approved fee schedule pursuant to administrative orders of the Court. It is important to note that the wards or protected persons for whom the Public Fiduciary is appointed Guardian and Conservator are not supported by any county funds or administrative budget funds of the Public Fiduciary’s Office. All support for the wards or protected persons is derived from the estate of the ward or protected person.