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Attorney’s Position on Ending Guardianship Case Approved

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MARCH 8, 2010  VOLUME 17, NUMBER 8

{Ed. Note: this week’s Elder Law Issues was written for us by our friend, and nationally-known elder law authority, Prof. Rebecca C. MorganProf. Morgan holds the Boston Asset Management Chair in Elder Law at the Stetson University College of Law, and she is the Director of Stetson’s Center for Excellence in Elder Law.]

The ethical rules for attorneys (the Rules of Professional Conduct) impose a number of duties upon lawyers in their dealings with clients. Sometimes the rules require an attorney to take protective action on behalf of a client who has diminished capacity, even when the client disagrees with the attorney doing so.

Janet Clark suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of a serious car accident. She was subsequently determined to be incapacitated and a North Carolina probate judge appointed a guardian of the person and property for her. A little over eighteen months after her accident her husband petitioned to end her guardianship, arguing that she had been returned to competence.

In the meantime a personal injury case filed on her behalf settled for $4,000,000, and after the payment costs and fees the balance was to be paid to the trustee of a special needs trust to be established by the attorney’s firm. The attorney had earlier created a pooled special needs trust, and he sat on its Board of Directors. He used that trust for Ms. Clark’s settlement funds.

During the case the attorney had come to the conclusion that the husband was attempting to influence Ms. Clark while she was incompetent. The attorney concluded that the pooled SNT would be the best way to ensure that funds would be both protected and available for Ms. Clark’s future needs. Because of this concern, the attorney opposed the proceeding filed by Mr. Clark to terminate the guardianship, and he sought a new evaluation of Ms. Clark’s competency.

Ultimately Ms. Clark was restored to competency and motions were filed, included motions regarding attorney’s fees. The appellate court rejected the Clarks’ argument that it was wrong to award the fees, especially in light of the guardian’s and attorney’s opposition to efforts to end Ms. Clark’s guardianship. After reviewing state law the appellate court concluded that the attorney’s fees should be paid.

The appellate court noted that the facts supported the guardian’s concerns regarding efforts to end Ms. Clark’s guardianship. The trial judge had found that the attorney had a good faith belief that terminating Ms. Clark’s guardianship was not in her best interest and the attorney had a duty to “exercise his best judgment” which, according to the trial court, is exactly what he did.

The appellate court also upheld the trial court’s finding that there was no conflict of interest because the attorney had fully disclosed his relationship with the pooled trust. According to the court, the Clarks failed to prove that this relationship in any way adversely affected the attorney’s representation of Ms. Clark. In re Clark, February 2, 2010.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.