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Phoenix Leader In Private Fiduciary Industry Goes To Jail

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Arizona, unlike most other states, has a network of professional guardians and conservators to handle the personal and financial affairs of incapacitated adults (and minors). Most of the time, that network serves the community extremely well. Once again, however, the image of Arizona’s professional fiduciary industry has been blemished by the acts of one individual.

Long-time Phoenix fiduciary Nancy Elliston spent two nights in jail earlier this month, after having been found in contempt of court for paying herself $6,500 from one estate despite court orders not to do so. Her certificate to practice as a private fiduciary had already been suspended by the Arizona Supreme Court in an October 22, 1999, ruling. Now allegations have surfaced that she may have taken thousands of dollars from dozens of cases she managed.

Ms. Elliston’s legal problems are particularly distressing to the private fiduciary community in Arizona. She was one of the first private fiduciaries to enter the profession, and she has been a leader in the practice for over two decades.

Ms. Elliston’s reputation has been as a vigorous advocate for protecting the rights of incapacitated wards. She has also lead the fight to establish ethical standards for private fiduciaries and to provide training and support to permit them to better serve their wards.

No criminal actions have yet been filed against Ms. Elliston, though investigations are underway. The good news: all but one of the cases her firm handled apparently were bonded, so the loss to wards may be minimized.

In recent years state and local prosecutors have initiated criminal actions against several high-profile professional fiduciaries. In Tucson, for example, paralegal Marilyn Summers was convicted of taking money from several of the estates she handled, and she was sent to prison. (Ms. Summers’ case was described in Appointment of Conservator May Not Prevent Exploitation. June 1, 1998 Vol. 5, #48) Although Ms. Summers has left the local scene, successors conservators and attorneys are still trying to figure out how much money was taken and how it might be replaced two years after her sentencing.

Phoenix has also seen prosecutions of fiduciaries; in 1993, for example, after an expose in the Phoenix New Times, prominent Phoenix attorney Wayne Legg was charged with assisting conservator Webber Mackey to systematically loot several estates of incapacitated adults. Legg was convicted four years later; Mackey died before trial. (Phoenix Attorney Convicted Of Theft From Estates Of Elderly. August 11, 1997 Vol. 5, #6)

Even relatively rural Kingman, Arizona, has had experience with fiduciary wrongdoing. Mohave County Public Fiduciary (Arizona’s public fiduciaries are county officials, acting in cases where no family or friends take responsibility for incapacitated adults or decedent’s estates) Michael Daw was convicted of taking money from decedent’s estates in 1997; he apparently gambled the proceeds in nearby Nevada casinos. (Mohave Public Fiduciary Pleads Guilty, Faces Certain Jail Time. May 19, 1997 Vol. 4, #46)

Largely in response to the Wayne Legg case, Arizona’s legislature established a registration system for professional fiduciaries in 1994, although funding was not provided for the program until 1998. Operated by the Arizona Supreme Court, the fiduciary certification program has now registered over 300 individuals and organizations to act as paid fiduciaries in Arizona conservatorships, guardianships and probates.

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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.