JANUARY 24, 1994 VOLUME 1, NUMBER 10
Usually, family members can be relied on to act as guardian or conservator when the need arises. Family members and friends are not always available, however. Sometimes they are even the reason a guardianship or conservatorship is necessary.
The Public Fiduciary’s office was created in 1974 throughout Arizona to deal with just these types of cases. At the time, the legislature was grappling with substantial revisions to the probate code, and (according to legend) State Senator Sandra Day O’Connor decided to create a county office which could take responsibility for the mentally disabled without suitable friends or family.
While some counties waited several years before creating and staffing a Public Fiduciary’s office, Pima County was among the first to act. The office opened with a staff of one (an attorney on loan from the County Attorney’s office) in mid-1974.
From the beginning, Pima County’s Public Fiduciary has always been an attorney. The same experience has not prevailed in every county, however. Today, about half the Public Fiduciaries in other counties have attorneys available to the office.
New cases can be referred to the Pima County Public Fiduciary’s office by telephone (740-5454). Once an investigation has been conducted, they will determine whither they think it is appropriate for the office to act. since the office staff also includes several attorneys, they ordinarily take care of all legal procedures necessary to secure appointment as guardian or conservator.
When the Public Fiduciary decides not to become involved in a case, it is still possible to petition the Court directly. If the Court determines that the patient requires appointment of a guardian or conservator, and if no one else is willing and suitable to serve, the Public Fiduciary can and will be appointed even though they have declined to voluntarily accept the case.
The Public Fiduciary charges fees. There is currently a dispute between the office and the Court whether they should be calculated to approximate their market value or the actual cost (to the County) of staff and office. In either event, the office does have the ability to waive its fee or defer collection until some later date.
The Public Fiduciary’s office, of course, has struggled with the same budget shortages that afflict all government agencies. Still, it may be the best at of providing consistent and professional management in many challenging cases.
The Public Fiduciary’s Office will act as guardian or conservator when no family, friends or private fiduciary is available to act. There is no financial eligibility requirements (though the office tends to become involved with smaller estates). Sometimes, in fact, the office will take the position that an estate is too small to require protection.
Although the office once acted as “representative payee” under Social Security law for a number of residents, the current position is that they must be appointed by the Court in each instance. Consequently, the office will act only for those who lack the capacity to “make or communicate responsible decisions” concerning their own welfare, or who have estates “subject to waste or dissipation unless proper management is provided.”