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Guardian of Estate Must Pay Personally For Copies of Checks

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The issue facing Florida guardian Barbara Keithly was simple: should she have her bank return the original canceled checks on the guardianship account, or would it acceptable to receive only copies with her monthly statement? Although the question seems simple enough, it provides an opportunity to consider the level of responsibility imposed on guardians and conservators.

Ms. Keithly had been appointed as guardian of the estate (in Arizona and some other states she would have been called “conservator”) of Donald Crosley, a Florida resident, in 1994. At the time Florida (like Arizona and all the other states) had a fairly lax system of checks on the actual work of guardians. A few years later, in the face of mounting controversies and amid news reports of abuses by guardians, Florida (again like Arizona and a number of other states) began to crack down on guardians, imposing new requirements for accounting and creating new offices for monitoring at least some of the cases.

In 2001, the Florida court appointed a “Special Monitor” to review Ms. Keithly’s actions as guardian. The judge ordered her to produce the original canceled checks on the account, so that she could show that the numbers on her accounting actually added up.

Ms. Keithly explained to the judge that she did not have the original checks. Like millions of Americans, she had opted to have the bank return only copies of the fronts of her checks, and the originals had been destroyed. Although it would have only cost $2.00 each month to have the bank send the checks back to her, it would now cost $3,300 to have the bank produce copies of front and back of each check for the accounting period in question.

The court ordered Ms. Keithly to produce the front-and-back copies, and to do so at her own expense. She appealed, but the Florida Court of Appeal upheld the order. Noting that Florida law expressly requires guardians to “obtain a receipt or canceled check for all expenditures,” and that Ms. Keithly (as a professional guardian) presumably knew that rule, the appellate court made clear that producing the copies would be her obligation. Keithly v. Vance, July 25, 2003.

The moral of Ms. Keithly’s story is simple but important: a fiduciary is held to a higher level of responsibility than he or she might reasonably be expected to exercise in handling his or her own affairs. As New York Justice Benjamin Cardozo famously wrote in 1928, “not honesty alone, but the punctilio of an honor the most sensitive, is the standard of behavior.”

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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.