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Guardianships & Conservatorships

When someone is unable to manage their own affairs, a guardianship and/or conservatorship may be necessary. Guardianship and conservatorship are “protective proceedings,” which, as the term suggests, are intended to protect people who need it. Such proceedings are serious endeavors because they essentially remove or limit an individual’s right to make their own decisions.

A person subject to a protective proceeding needs to be found “incapacitated” in a court proceeding before a guardian will be appointed. Under Arizona law, a guardian or conservator can be appointed for a person who suffers from mental illness, mental disorder, physical illness or disability, chronic use of drugs, or chronic intoxication. In addition, a conservator may be appointed in a case of confinement, disappearance, or detention by a foreign power.

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To appoint a guardian, the court must find that the person in need of protection is unable to make or communicate responsible decisions about their person and is therefore unable to provide basics such as food, clothing, and shelter for themselves without assistance. A guardianship is often likened to a parent-child relationship because a guardian is responsible for most life decisions that must be made for the person they serve, including medical care and living arrangements. Guardians must always act in the best interests of the subject of the proceedings.

Guardianships do have limits. Guardians may not write an estate plan for the person, or admit them for inpatient mental health treatment without court approval. For any funds beyond a nominal amount, a conservator may be required rather than a guardian. A guardian’s powers may be further limited when it is appropriate. For example, the court might authorize the guardian  to only make medical decisions, or to only decide the person’s living arrangements.


A conservator handles the financial affairs of a person deemed to be in need of protection. A conservator’s authority is limited to financial matters and does not include living arrangements or medical care, though they have control of the money that pays for those things. Appointment of a conservator can be made if the court finds that assets will be wasted or dissipated without proper management or that assets need to be accessed to provide care for either the person alleged to be incapacitated or their dependents.

Once appointed, the conservator holds title to the protected person’s property and must use it for the protected person’s benefit. They must account annually to the Court and other interested persons. Conservators also must obtain a bond, which is an insurance policy that protects the conservatorship estate in the event the conservator mishandles the assets. Insurance covers the problem, then the bonding company pursues the conservator to recover the loss.

Like guardianships, conservatorships also can be limited. It is possible to have a conservator appointed for a single transaction.


Every petition for appointment of guardian or conservator must be filed at the courthouse and personally served on the alleged incapacitated person. Notice is given to others, including spouse, adult children, and preexisting guardians and conservators. The person who may be in need of protection must be represented by an attorney, either of their own choice or appointed by the Court. An investigator and medical evaluator are appointed, and they evaluate the situation and report back to the Court. The hearing itself must be public, and the subject of the proceedings may attend and be heard. These proceedings are usually heard and decided by a judge, but a jury can be used.


The cost of a basic guardianship or conservatorship will vary based on the facts of the case and the parties involved. If there is an objection (including from the proposed protected person), the costs can increase significantly.

Guardianship and conservatorship proceedings can be complicated and expensive, particularly if the parties do not agree on either the need for the protection or who should serve. These proceedings should not be undertaken without serious consideration.

People who have capacity can plan ahead and take steps to avoid guardianship and conservatorship proceedings by executing powers of attorney and trusts. But sometimes the appointment of a guardian and/or conservator is necessary and can help ensure the most vulnerable among us receive needed medical care and assistance with the management of their assets. Most often, a family member serves as guardian and/or conservator, but in some cases, no one is willing or suitable to do this work. For those situations, Arizona provides that a licensed fiduciary may serve. Fleming & Curti is among fiduciaries who may be willing to serve in these roles.

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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.

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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.