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Protecting a Vulnerable Person: A Covid Challenge

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Vulnerable person

Part of what we do at Fleming & Curti is protect vulnerable people. As a licensed private fiduciary, the firm serves as conservator, guardian, and agent under power of attorney for adults who can’t manage their own affairs.

Ordinarily, because we’d all be having holiday family gatherings, we might share tips for spotting a vulnerable person who needs help. But how do you assess a situation when your closest contact is by Zoom? That’s something we’ve struggled with since the pandemic began. And, as Covid cases rise, the problem is not going away. If you have a loved one who may be struggling, take extra time to pay attention. If something seems “off,” consider taking action.

How to Protect a Vulnerable Person

One thing is key: Stay in touch. Abuse is more likely to occur of the vulnerable person is isolated and alone. Call, videoconference, and, if it’s safe, visit. If you stay engaged, you’ll be able to learn what’s normal and spot changes. You also might get to know other people in the vulnerable person’s life. Caregivers, friends, and professionals may provide crucial information and help keep your loved one safe. Encourage other friends and family members to communicate, too. Being present, even by phone or videochat is crucial.

Listen and watch for:

  • A change in behavior. A loved one might become depressed or withdrawn. Or get upset or agitated, or be unresponsive or act fearful. They also might  demonstrate other unusual behavior.
  • Physical issues. Ask about health issues. Look for bruises or other injuries that have no logical explanation. Also: weight loss and unattended medical needs.
  • Neglect or self-neglect: Unusually poor hygiene, unsanitary or unsafe surroundings. Ask for a video tour of the living space.
  • Financial irregularities. If you have access to bank and credit card accounts, look for unexplained withdrawals, charges, and transfers, and take note if bills are being paid regularly.

What to Do if Things Don’t Look Good

If a vulnerable person is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1 or local authorities. Under many circumstances, police will do a welfare check.

If you suspect abuse or self-neglect, report it to Adult Protective Services (“APS”). Some are required by law to report. The state-run agency may investigate what you observed and take action or provide resources. You do not have to provide actual evidence of abuse. In Arizona, 877-767-2385, or here; elsewhere, search the National Center on Elder Abuse, or call 800-677-1116.

Enlist agencies for the aging. Our local agency is Pima Council on Aging, and it has a hotline and volunteer ombudsmen. The ombudsmen listens to and investigates care home complaints and concerns. Call 520-790-7262 or e-mail [email protected] or [email protected].

If the vulnerable person lives in a facility, consider filing a complaint with the Arizona Department of Health Services. It licenses, inspects, and monitors facilities. Arizona Department of Health Services, 602-364-2536.

In some cases, government agencies are unable to provide meaningful assistance. In those cases, if the vulnerable person is unable to manage his or her affairs, another option is guardianship and conservatorship. The process puts someone else in charge of making life and, if needed, financial decisions for the incapacitated person. Often, a family member is named; however, if one is not available, the court can appoint someone else.

Things Are OK, for Now

If a loved one is starting to decline and you worry that he or she is becoming vulnerable, help him or her plan for the future.

Encourage getting financial and legal affairs in order. A financial adviser, estate planning attorney, and geriatric care manager can help plan for the future. For instance, financial and health-care powers of attorney are especially important legal documents to have in place.

If power-of-attorney agents are named, make sure important people in your loved one’s life know who they are, how to reach them, and the requirements for the powers to become effective.

Then, as time goes on, continue to stay engaged. Above all, the best way to protect a vulnerable person is being there, even by Zoom.

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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.