Life throws curveballs, and sometimes, the adults we cherish need our help making crucial decisions.

Guardianship is a legal mechanism designed to safeguard the well-being and interests of individuals who cannot take care of themselves due to various factors such as disability, illness, or age. 

In the state of Arizona, as in many other jurisdictions, the intricacies of guardianship law can be complex and overwhelming. Understanding the rights, responsibilities, and processes involved is essential for anyone considering or navigating this complicated journey. 

Let’s take a deeper look at the legal landscape of guardianship in Arizona, shedding light on the integral aspects that define this significant facet of family law.

Guardianship and Conservatorship Defined

Guardianships and conservatorships are legal arrangements in Arizona that involve the protection of and management of assets for vulnerable individuals, known as “wards,” who are unable to handle their affairs. 

Per the state’s Department of Economic Security, “A guardian must be appointed by a court. A conservator refers to a person appointed by a court to manage the estate of a protected person. A person may have a guardian, a conservator, or both.”

In addition, a testamentary appointment (by will) gives the parents or spouse of an incapacitated adult a way to ensure their continued care. The guardian appointed by the will must file acceptance of the appointment in the court where the will has been formally or informally probated (ARS §14-5301).

Any person with a developmental disability is presumed legally competent in guardianship proceedings unless the court determines otherwise. The procedure for establishing guardianship for an alleged incapacitated adult is more involved than appointment in the case of a minor.

The guardian’s role is to manage the ward’s personal affairs, living situation, medical treatment, psychiatric care, and education, putting the ward’s best interests first. A conservatorship deals with the fiduciary management of financial and legal matters such as investing, paying debts, running a business, or selling real estate.

Arizona law recognizes two levels for both guardianships and conservatorships:

  • Limited: The court grants the guardian or conservator authority over specific areas —  like medical decisions for a guardian or investment management for a conservator. The ward retains decision-making power in other aspects of their life.
  • Full: The guardian or conservator has complete decision-making authority over the ward’s personal affairs (guardian) or finances (conservator). This is usually reserved for situations where the ward cannot make informed decisions.

Exploring the Process

The first step is filing a Petition for Appointment of Guardian, a Petition for Appointment of Conservator, or a Petition for Guardianship/ Conservatorship in the Superior Court.

Petitioners will provide evidence of the proposed ward’s incapacity through medical evaluations and witness statements. The court will appoint an impartial attorney to represent the proposed ward and protect their rights throughout the proceedings, as well as an Investigator, who will interview all of the parties to the case and the alleged ward. 

Typically, guardianship is sought by interested parties over the age of 18, with no criminal record. The priority for appointment is generally in the following order:

  • Spouse
  • Individual or entity nominated by the person, if they have sufficient mental capacity
  • An adult child
  • A parent or someone nominated via will by a deceased parent
  • Close relatives
  • A public or private fiduciary

Being appointed as a guardian is a profound responsibility that should never be taken lightly. In Arizona, guardians must act with the utmost good faith, honesty, and undivided loyalty to their ward.

Once the proper petitions are filed, the court will hold a hearing in the county where the person resides to assess the ward’s capacity and determine the appropriate level of guardianship or conservatorship.

Notice of the hearing must be given to relevant parties, including family members and caregivers. The alleged incapacitated person has every right of due process and equal protection under the law, including:

  • The right to appear in person
  • Representation by counsel
  • Presenting evidence and cross-examination
  • Requesting a jury trial

A surety bond may be required by the court for the guardian or conservator, especially if the ward owns substantial property or income. The bond ensures that wards will receive compensation for financial harm if the guardian fails to abide by the regulations outlined in ARS § 14-5105.

Compassionate Guidance Throughout Your Journey

Navigating guardianship, conservatorship, or other alternatives for an incapacitated loved one can be emotionally challenging and demands compassion, understanding, and expertise. 

At the Law Offices of J. Jeltes, we understand the complexities involved and are committed to providing knowledgeable and confidential support throughout this complex process. Our experienced family law attorneys will help you determine the most suitable legal arrangement for your situation and provide ongoing guidance.

We’re dedicated to assisting individuals and families in Arizona with life’s most difficult yet rewarding transitions — reach out to us today!