The Office of the Public Fiduciary was established by the 1974 Arizona Legislature. A.R.S. §14-5601(A) states: “Each County Board of Supervisor shall, by resolution or ordinance, create the office of and appoint a public fiduciary.”
It is the responsibility of the Public Fiduciary to serve as court appointed guardian, conservator and personal representative when there is no other person or corporation qualified and willing to serve. There is a public fiduciary office active in every county in Arizona.
It is the responsibility of the Public Fiduciary to protect the legal rights and financial interests of vulnerable adults and to administer the estates of deceased persons. The Public Fiduciary is an independent and impartial public official and its role in serving as guardian and conservator is to balance protection with autonomy and thereby ensure that people may live in the way they choose with support of family and friends. The Public Fiduciary is accountable to clients, the Court and the public at large.
Additionally, the office serves as Social Security Payee for vulnerable adults.The office also directs the Navajo County Indigent Burial Program.
The Public Fiduciary is often appointed by the Court to make an investigation and recommend what action should be taken. The Public Fiduciary’s Office generally prefers to investigate the case prior to any court appointment to explore alternatives with family, friends, caseworkers and attorneys. The Public Fiduciary is frequently appointed successor guardian, conservator or personal representative in matters involving breach of fiduciary duty.
Cases are referred to the Public Fiduciary by physicians, hospitals, nursing homes, attorneys, Adult Protective Services, professional fiduciaries, Social Security Administration, the Arizona State Hospital and members of the general public. Upon receiving a case referral, an intake investigator gathers the information, visits the prospective client, family members and interested persons, then makes recommendations whether to accept or decline the case. The recommendation of the intake investigator takes into account such things as personal care; placement costs; assets; investment status; the need; and eligibility for public benefits.
The fact that a person is elderly, mentally ill, developmentally disabled or physically disabled does not necessarily indicate a need for guardianship or conservatorship. In many cases, alternatives to guardianship can and should be used. Guardianship or conservatorship should be considered a last resort. It should never be used in a retaliatory manner or as a convenience for a health care provider, family member or others. Guardianship or conservatorship is an extreme form of intervention in a person’s life, because it takes control over personal and/or financial decisions for an indefinite, often permanent period of time.
Although many of the referrals received by the Public Fiduciary’s Office meet the criteria for a guardianship or conservatorship, there is often not a demonstrated need for the person to have a guardian or conservator. In determining whether to accept the case and petition for guardianship or conservatorship, the Public Fiduciary evaluates the following questions:
Is the person in physical risk?
Will the person suffer a financial loss if there are assets that are not protected?
Is the Public Fiduciary’s appointment an advantage to the person’s situation?
If the appointment of a guardian or conservator is necessary and appropriate, a petition is prepared for filing with the Court. The Navajo County Public Fiduciary is represented by the Civil Division of the Navajo County Attorney’s Office.
The Public Fiduciary serves without bond per state statute and has a claim against the estate for “an annual assessment in lieu of bond of $25.00 and one-forth of one percent of the amount of the estate greater than $10,000.” A.R.S. §14-5604(A)(3). The Public Fiduciary also has a claim against the estate for its expenses and fees and the expenses and fees of its attorney. A.R.S. §14-5604(A)(2). It is important to note that the wards or protected persons for which the Public Fiduciary is appointed guardian and conservator are not supported by any county funds or administrative budget funds of the Public Fiduciary’s Office. All support for the wards or protected persons come from their own estate.