JULY 12, 2010 VOLUME 17, NUMBER 22
Among the less-controversial steps taken by the Arizona Legislature in 2010 was the adoption of the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act, which is usually referred to by its unpronounceable acronym UAGPPJA. The new law, which becomes effective on July 29, should make it easier for families to handle interstate guardianship and conservatorship issues. At the same time it should make it harder for warring families to move an ailing or demented family member across state lines for personal advantage.
Problems with interstate application of guardianship and conservatorship laws have been all too common. Imagine a typical scenario: father and stepmother, married for 25 years, live in Pennsylvania. Three children from father’s first marriage live in Florida, Arizona and Illinois. After stepmother checks father into a Pennsylvania adult care home, the children meet in Pennsylvania and decide they are better equipped to make decisions about their father’s care. Without telling their stepmother of their intentions they check father out of his adult care home, put him on an airplane, fly to Tucson and check him in to a nursing home here. Then they file a guardianship and conservatorship action in Arizona, giving notice to his wife in Pennsylvania.
Under existing law such a proceeding would be permissible, and could result in the Arizona courts making decisions about not only the Pennsylvania man’s living arrangements and medical care, but also over his (and his wife’s) Pennsylvania property. The cost and trouble of traveling to Arizona, hiring a local attorney and objecting to the Arizona court proceedings might well deter his wife from protecting herself or asserting her views on the proper care for her husband.
After the UAGPPJA goes into effect, however, such interstate moves to secure legal advantage should become ineffective. The Arizona courts will be instructed to defer to the courts of the home state of any proposed ward.
There are other frequent — and much more benign — interstate problems in guardianship and conservatorship proceedings that are addressed by the UAGPPJA, too. One arises when the subject of an Arizona guardianship legitimately moves out of state. Imagine, for example, that a working couple have become guardian for their 22-year-old son who is developmentally disabled. Now they want to move to another state, and they will take their son with them. Will their Arizona guardianship be valid in the new state? Will they have to initiate an entirely new proceeding in the new state? If they do not, will they have to report to the Arizona courts for the rest of their son’s life — even though Arizona no longer has any direct involvement in his life?
If the new state has also adopted the UAGPPJA (and so far 19 other states and the District of Columbia have) the process of transferring a guardianship or conservatorship is vastly simplified. A filing needs to be made with the Arizona court, then with the courts of the new state. Once both courts have agreed that the guardianship can be transferred, the Arizona proceeding is terminated and the new state takes over. The process is much simpler than a second proceeding in the new state, and it ensures approval from the Arizona courts before any action is taken. The same process can work in reverse for people moving into Arizona.
One other interstate problem arises when, for example, an Arizona conservatorship involves property in another state. Under the existing patchwork of laws, each state is different — and many of them require an entirely new conservatorship (a “protective proceeding” in the language of the interstate jurisdiction law) with court-appointed attorneys, bond premiums and separate accountings filed in the state with the property. The new law makes the process much simpler: once the Arizona conservator has filed appropriate documents with the courts of the other state, he or she can proceed as if appointed in that state. No separate court proceedings required, no additional legal fees incurred, and no potential conflicts between two courts overseeing the same conservatorship.
The UAGPPJA is available online through the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. Arizona’s version, the new Arizona Revised Statutes sections 14-12101 and following sections, differ very little from the proposed uniform law. The list of states adopting the UAGPPJA (which list is steadily growing) is also online at the NCCUSL website.