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Late Request Does Not Prevent Fee Award to Trustee’s Lawyer

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JUNE 28, 2010  VOLUME 17, NUMBER 21
Mesa, Arizona, lawyer Donald C. Galbasini first began representing members of the Tremble family in 1998. That was when he filed a notice that he would be the attorney for Vernice Tremble, who was serving as conservator for Edward Tremble, Jr., her grandson.

Nine years later Vernice Tremble was removed by the probate judge as conservator — and also as trustee of a special needs trust that had been set up for Edward Tremble. A professional trustee was appointed to take over management of the special needs trust. A year and a half after that, Edward Tremble died and another family member was appointed to finalize the trust administration and distribution. Mr. Galbasini filed a notice that he would be representing the new trustee in connection with wrapping up the trust.

A month after stepping in as the new trustee’s lawyer, Mr. Galbasini filed a request for approval of a $46,736.65 fee — for his representation dating back to 1998. The state Medicaid agency (which would receive most of the balance of Edward Tremble’s trust under the rules governing self-settled special needs trusts) objected, arguing that it was too late for Mr. Galbasini to be filing his bill for approval and payment.

The trustee who had been handling the trust in the interim joined in the state’s objection, adding other arguments. Because of Mr. Galbasini’s long involvement and representation of a conservator who had been removed, argued the trustee, it would be impossible at this late date to figure out whether his representation had benefited Edward Tremble or other family members. The trustee pointed out that Mr. Galbasini had billed at his regular attorney rate for ministerial actions like writing checks out of his client trust account. Furthermore, the trustee was concerned that none of Mr. Galbasini’s reported time was for contact with Vernice Tremble, his client — all of his contacts had been with Edward Tremble’s parents, Mr. Galbasini’s client’s son and daughter-in-law.

The probate judge agreed, and denied Mr. Galbasini’s fee request as untimely. The Arizona Court of Appeals, however, disagreed — it reversed the fee denial and sent the matter back to the trial judge for further hearings. The question wasn’t whether the fee request was late, ruled the appellate court — instead, the important question was whether the fees were reasonable and for the benefit of Edward Tremble’s trust and conservatorship estates.

The appellate court did not rule that Mr. Galbasini’s fees were reasonable, but only that he needed to be given a chance to explain and defend them. If the court finds that the fees were incurred during times when he did not actually represent the conservator or trustee, for instance, the Court of Appeals agreed that those fees should be denied. The mere lateness of the application, however, was not enough to justify a complete denial of Mr. Galbasini’s fees. Conservatorship of Tremble, June 10, 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.