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Changes In Arizona Law Affect Elders, Children’s Estates

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Last week in Elder Law Issues we reported on changes in Arizona’s law governing durable powers of attorney. We explained that financial powers of attorney must now include specific language and provisions, or they may be invalid. The change was one product of the annual legislative session, completed last May; most new laws became effective August 21 (one key provision of the power of attorney legislation became effective on August 1).

Powers of attorney were not the only elder-related topic addressed by this year’s Arizona legislature. In other new laws the legislature provided that:

  • Up to $50,000 worth of personal property can be collected by heirs after the death of the property owner without having to go through the probate process. The change increases the amount which may be collected by what some call a “small estates affidavit” from $30,000. There was no change in the value of real estate which can be collected through a similar (though slightly more complicated) procedure; it remains fixed at $50,000. Taken together, the two provisions mean even an estate of $100,000 may be processed without having to go through a full probate proceeding.
  • The same small estates process can be used when a full probate has been completed and additional assets (up to the $50,000 figure) are later discovered. This makes it easier to collect assets that are overlooked during the original probate proceeding, a problem which arises surprisingly often.
  • Children under fourteen no longer have to be formally served with notice of conservatorship proceedings. “Formal” service is accomplished by having a process server personally hand a copy of court pleadings to the person being served. During a revision of the laws two years ago, the exemption from personal service for young children was inadvertently deleted, and this year the legislature corrected the mistake. It will no longer be necessary to have a process server deliver documents to toddlers, but fourteen-year-olds will still be entitled to receive a copy of court pleadings affecting their estates.
  • Court-appointed conservators have been given clear power to revoke powers of attorney. Under prior law, it was not clear whether a power of attorney remained effective if the signer later had a conservator appointed. Under the new provision, the conservator has the power to not only handle the ward’s money, but also to revoke any powers of attorney which may be outstanding. Of course, most people who have executed powers of attorney will never find themselves in conservatorship proceedings; when they do, it is most likely because the agent under the power of attorney has either failed to act or has abused the power.
  • An agent under a power of attorney is guilty of theft if he (or she) “unlawfully deprives” the signer of her (or his) property. Obviously, taking the principal’s money will invoke this criminal statute. So might making gifts to the agent’s children or others, or investing the money in businesses which benefit someone other than the principal.
  • Nursing homes, adult care homes and home health agencies must now take steps to ensure that new employees do not have a history of abuse of vulnerable adults, sexual abuse, murder, domestic violence, fraud or a list of other offenses. As part of this provision, adult care employers must submit fingerprint samples for all employees, and they are also required to make documented, good faith efforts to secure valid reference checks on all new employees.

None of the changes will revolutionize the protections given to elderly adults and children. Taken together, however, they may better serve these vulnerable citizens.

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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.