Gov. Hobbs signs bill for Arizona probate reform

State lawmakers have been working on two probate reform bills this session, one of which has already been signed into law by Gov. Katie Hobbs.
Published: May. 12, 2023 at 1:29 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Advocates for probate reform in Arizona are celebrating a victory, after Governor Katie Hobbs signed a bill that will create a new probate advisory panel. It will require the panel to hold public hearings on how to improve adult guardianship and conservatorship in the state.

“I was really excited, and I was more excited, too, that the governor saw the importance of the panel because it gives the people a voice directly to the legislators,” said long-time advocate Sherry Lund. Another proposed law that would amend probate procedures to ensure people are informed of their rights through the probate process and protect their ability to have contact with family and friends is still being considered by lawmakers.

For Bill Chalmers, that means the fight for change continues. Years ago, Chalmers’ own attorney recommended a conservator to help get through a messy divorce. “I was like, ‘OK. If you guys can help me get money, I’ll actually acquiesce. It’s only temporary. We’ll get through this.’ But then all of a sudden, as soon as they got their hooks in me, the whole story changed,” Chalmers told On Your Side. “They put me into a guardianship. They took me from my home. Put me in a hotel. Took away my phone. Took away my computers. They took away everything I had.”

Thursday, Chalmers attended the state’s fiduciary board hearing and learned the fiduciary that handled his case, East Valley Fiduciary Services (EVFS), is being censured and put on probation for its handling of Chalmers’ case. EVFS will be eligible to get off of probation in less than year, according to the board. “One of the violations that occurred in my case was while they were still under probation, so they clearly don’t respect probation as a restriction in any way. They don’t feel compelled to follow the ethical guidelines,” Chalmers objected to the board. “Why would the board simply allow them to just get away with terminating their probationary period early? I think it’s just outrageous.” EVFS will also undergo a compliance audit.

Mark Dangerfield, an attorney for East Valley Fiduciary Services, said EVFS does not agree with the findings. “EVFS takes its role as a fiduciary seriously. EVFS does not agree with the CLD’s findings in this matter, has not had the chance to formally respond to them, and the findings have not been examined in any contested legal proceeding where EVFS could present evidence and call and cross-examine witnesses regarding the allegations,” Dangerfield said in a statement to On Your Side. “Nonetheless, EVFS believes it best to resolve the allegations through the approved Consent Agreement due to the complexity of the case, the fact that the events happened several years ago, and the additional time and expense that would be required to pursue the issues through a hearing and possible appeal through the courts.”

Currently, there are 40 complaints under investigation by the fiduciary board. Many of the cases are older than year. People who are pushing for probate reform say these complaints prove the system is broken. “When there is a complaint filed, it should be an immediate action,” Lund said. Some changes are already underway. “We’re hiring another investigator. That’s a lot of the issue, is the time it takes to get through an investigation,” said Aaron Nash, the director of the fiduciary board. “We went from two and a half positions in 2021 to four now, five hopefully by June 1, and maybe six with funding we just got from the legislature.”