Close this search box.

Judge Hearing Conservatorship Matters Is “Ultimate” Authority

Print Article


After incurring the emotional and financial cost of securing a guardianship and conservatorship, family members usually believe that they have been given authority to make all personal and financial decisions for their incapacitated loved one. Though nearly true, that is not quite the case—as Randy Bardwell found out, the judge viewed himself as the “ultimate guardian.” Though the guardian and conservator may have legal authority, the court can review any and all decisions made for the ward.

Mr. Bardwell had been appointed “conservator of the person and estate” (what in Arizona would be called “guardian and conservator”) of his aunt Mary Caroline Lambert Bardwell. He was also acting as trustee of her revocable living trust, which contained much but not all of her $1.8 million in assets. In the first months after his appointment he asked the court’s permission to make $50,000 in gifts to himself, his children and other family members, to enter into a timber management contract for some of her real estate holdings, and to pay himself $27,000 in fees for handling his aunt’s estate. While the court declined to authorize the gifts, it did approve the timber management contract and Mr. Bardwell’s fees.

It turned out, however, that there were several problems with Mr. Bardwell’s behavior as conservator. In addition to the $27,000 in fees, he paid himself nearly $20,000 more. Ms. Bardwell had always been (and remained) opposed to sale of any timber on her land, and Mr. Bardwell had simply ignored her opinion. And he had not posted the conservator’s bond as he had been ordered, and had not provided proper documentation at the time the first fees had been approved. At an early hearing on whether Mr. Bardwell should have been removed, the trial judge said “I made some mistakes by authorizing a fee that I did not have sufficient information on, and … I wish I hadn’t done that.” Ultimately the judge ordered Mr. Bardwell to return all but $4,385.55 of his fees, removed him as conservator, set aside the timber contract and appointed a new conservator.

Although Mr. Bardwell insisted that the judge had shown prejudice against him by observing that he should not have approved the fee, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld both the judge’s refusal to step aside and his final rulings in the case. Noting that the judge was the “ultimate guardian,” the high court commended the judge for being “astutely aware” of his duty to correct misbehavior by Mr. Bardwell. Conservatorship of Bardwell v. Bardwell, July 17, 2003.

Stay up to date

Subscribe to our Newsletter to get our takes on some of the situations families, seniors, and individuals with disabilities find themselves in. These posts help guide you in the decision making process and point out helpful tips and nuances to take advantage of. Enter your email below to have our entries sent directly to your inbox!

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.