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Court Denies Guardianship Petition Based on Power of Attorney

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JULY 29, 2002 VOLUME 10, NUMBER 4

Family members and caretakers are often confused by the difference between powers of attorney and guardianship. The difference is straightforward: powers of attorney can be signed by competent adults giving authority to someone else to act—including, but not necessarily limited, to those times when the signer may later become incapacitated. Guardianship and conservatorship, on the other hand, are court proceedings that may be initiated when a person no longer has capacity to sign documents such as a power of attorney.

A previously executed power of attorney should ordinarily avoid the need for instituting guardianship proceedings. For several reasons, avoiding court action will usually be desirable.

The high cost of guardianship and conservatorship actions makes the relatively inexpensive power of attorney look like an attractive alternative. When an individual signs a power of attorney, he or she also selects the individual who will act as agent; a guardianship proceeding leaves that choice up to the court. Once court proceedings are invoked, it will usually be necessary to file accounting and personal information with the court (and make it a public record) every year thereafter.

Despite the existence of a validly executed power of attorney, however, court proceedings sometimes are initiated. In a recent Florida case, for example, distant relatives of an elderly woman filed a guardianship petition; her husband and step-daughter already held a power of attorney. When the court denied their petition for guardianship, the relatives appealed.

The Florida Court of Appeals upheld denial of the guardianship petition. The court noted that Florida law strongly favors imposition of the least restrictive form of control over the lives of incapacitated adults, and decided that recognizing the validity of the power of attorney satisfied that requirement.

The Florida couple had been married eighteen years, their assets were modest and there was no indication that the agents under her power of attorney had misbehaved in any way. Given those facts, said the court, the guardianship petition should be dismissed, giving effect to the woman’s choice of agent and mechanism for managing her personal and financial decisions. Smith v. Lynch, July 24, 2002.

The result would probably be the same in Arizona. Though our statutes lack the strong language preferring the least restrictive alternative, courts almost universally apply the same principle. If there had been any indication of wrongdoing by the agents under the power of attorney, of course, the result likely would have been different. Court supervision, though expensive, at least gives some assurance that proper decisions will be made.

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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.