Frequently Asked Questions
Are you caregivers?
We are care coordinators, not care providers. Our clients depend on us to advocate for their care and medical services with qualified, insured direct care professionals. Because Dawning Horizons does not provide direct care, our clients can depend on us for an objective assessment of their care needs and coordination of services that are appropriate to their particular needs, free from conflicts of interest.
What areas do you serve?
We are licensed to conduct business anywhere in the State of Arizona. While our office is conveniently located in the City of Goodyear, just about 15 minutes from Downtown Phoenix, much work is conducted in the field. The rest can be accomplished remotely. Clients and their providers are not required to travel to us. Most of our clients and wards reside in Maricopa and Yuma Counties, and some have resided in La Paz County and Pima County (Tucson). We will consider cases in Pinal County (Casa Grande) and other areas. We serve the entire Phoenix Metro area and outlying rural areas.
What is the minimum estate size for you to accept appointment or nomination?
There is no minimum estate size. Serving middle and lower income individuals is a priority. An analysis of the costs of current care, anticipated future care, income, illiquid assets, the ability to limit services to save costs, and anticipated duration of engagement will be conducted.
What is adult guardianship?
Guardianship of an adult is a protective proceeding, ordered and overseen by the Superior Court, for an adult who has been found incapacitated to the point that they can no longer responsibly or safely manage their own personal and medical care needs.
Do you act as guardian for minors?
No. We do act as conservator for minors’ estates, but never as the legal guardian of the minor person.
What is a conservator?
A conservator is sometimes referred to as “guardian of the estate.” The legal standard for a conservatorship is different from that of an adult guardianship. A person can be still competent enough to make their own day to day living decisions while being extremely vulnerable to financial exploitation or ruin due to disability or impaired executive functioning. In these cases, a conservatorship functions as what is sometimes referred to as a “limited guardianship”. Conservatorship can also be further limited; for example, a person may be able to manage day-to-day bill paying, but no longer capable of managing a very complex estate.
How much does a guardianship/conservatorship cost?
You will find our hourly rates highly competitive in the local market. Our Principal holds the highest level of credentialing attainable in the field, which in most cases usually means you pay the highest price: This is not the case at Dawning Horizons. Keeping services accessible and sustainable to middle class and lower income individuals is a priority to us.
That said, anyone who is being honest with you will tell you that guardianship and/or conservatorship can be a highly intrusive and costly process. It should be the last resort, when there are no alternatives available. It is possible to for truly indigent individuals to qualify for public representation and waivers of fees; generally these cases are handled by the Public Fiduciary. In order to employ the services of a Licensed Fiduciary in Private Practice, there must be assets to protect that are also sufficient pay for the professional fees and services the guardianship procedures require on an ongoing basis. Alternatives to guardianship will be explored in all referrals. If the court-appointed process is unavoidable, the situation will be carefully analyzed to determine whether limited protective arrangements are appropriate, which helps to reduce fees and costs.
In guardianships and/or conservatorships with a Licensed Fiduciary in Private Practice, the protected person pays. Except in indigent cases as approved by the Superior Court, or if a petitioner is found to have acted in bad faith, all attorneys fees will be paid from the protected person’s assets. This is why it is important to rule out all alternatives, which you can accomplish by requesting an appointment.
I need to petition for guardianship or conservatorship for my loved one. Do I have to hire an attorney?
Unless you have appeared before a judge or commissioner who ordered you to hire one, there is no requirement that a petitioner who is a member of the general public hire an attorney to seek guardianship or conservatorship (“guardianship of the estate”) for their loved one. There are self-service forms available through the Maricopa County Superior Court’s Web site. These forms can be used in any county in the State of Arizona by crossing out or whiting out the word “Maricopa” and replacing it with the appropriate county name. The Superior Court hears and oversees many cases where family guardians are not represented by legal counsel. These cases are often ones in which a disabled dependent child has been under the care of his or her parents and reaches the age of adulthood.
In general, for cases in which a previously competent person has declined to the point of needing a guardianship of the person or estate, the petitioner usually hires an attorney because these cases tend to be far more complex. A Licensed Fiduciary is required, by our professional Code of Conduct, to be represented by a licensed attorney when asking to be appointed as or are serving as guardian.
Regardless of whether the petitioner is represented, the proposed protected person will have an attorney appointed to represent his or her position before the court, as required by Arizona law.
How long does the guardianship/conservatorship process take?
This largely depends on the facts of the case and the court’s calendar. There is an expedited process, referred to in shorthand as “emergency guardianship” for cases that meet the legal requirements to speed up the proceedings. However, these are more expensive because they require additional court hearings after the emergency guardianship is initially granted. They should be avoided except in dire circumstances where the potential loss is significantly greater than the costs of the proceedings or where a person’s life, or the lives of others, is in jeopardy.
What is a POA? Can you draft one for me?
A POA is shorthand for a “Power of Attorney”. This is an instrument, a legal document, that a competent person drafts (called the “principal” in the document) giving power to someone else to act on the principal’s behalf (as “agent” or “attorney-in-fact”, not to be confused with “Attorney at Law”). Arizona law has specific requirements about how the document must be drafted in order to be legally valid, therefore we recommend that you always use a qualified estate planning attorney to draft your legal documents such as POAs, living wills, etc.
Under Arizona law, a paralegal certified as a “Certified Document Preparer” with the state is allowed to draft certain estate planning documents for other people. We recommend using an attorney. Qualified attorneys with experience in estate planning will provide a consultation and analysis of your situation in determining when your unique circumstances require more than boilerplate legal jargon. Unanticipated circumstances that are not addressed in the POA document can land a person who thought they did the planning to avoid a costly court-appointed guardianship process right in the middle of probate court. Attempting to save money by avoiding competent legal counsel is “pound-foolish”.
We cannot prepare Powers of Attorney. Even if we were licensed as document preparers (which we are not), we still would not prepare POAs naming ourselves as agent for our client in those same documents. We recommend against using a document preparer who is also going to serve as the agent under the documents being prepared. This is a wide open door to challenges by heirs and interested parties down the road who may allege an appearance of conflict of interest. Even if there is no actual conflict in the arrangement, that does not insulate you and your estate from legal challenges alleging that a conflict exists.
Probate litigation is expensive, drags on for months or years, and nobody wins in the end (except maybe the lawyers). You’re trying to do estate planning to keep yourself out of court, right? So spend the extra money, hire a good lawyer, and avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest from the outset. Many estate planning attorneys offer a free consultation and will prepare your documents on a flat fee basis that is far more reasonable than you may expect, and will certainly cost you less than even one day in court.
Is my loved one “competent”?
There are different levels of capacity or competency under the law. An attorney meeting with a person who wants to draft a Power of Attorney will make a determination whether the individual is competent for the purposes of estate planning. This level of capacity is called “testamentary capacity”. In general, if a person knows they cannot fully manage on their own anymore, they are willing to give someone else the power to help them, they know in general what their assets are and who their relatives are, they are determined to have testamentary capacity.
If a person clearly needs help and refuses to acknowledge that need or has no insight to understand it, refuses to allow someone to help them, and consistently makes decisions or takes action (or fails to take action) that harm their own self-interest, they would probably not be considered competent.
Competency or incapacity is not binary; it’s a spectrum. A person may have the capacity to handle certain aspects of their personal affairs, but not others. Advocacy services are tailored according to what an individual still is competent to manage on their own. This may change over time. You may start a services agreement for future needs, or task us with only what you need. In the beginning, many clients need little more than coordinating with investment professionals and ensuring taxes are paid and returns filed timely. Over time as the client’s needs increase, the services provided will increase correspondingly. In any case, the scope of services will be determined by the legal terms of the nomination as well as the client’s current abilities.
Sometimes a person’s competency or capacity is in question or is the matter of a dispute. A nueropsychological examination by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist may be required to answer questions about a person’s capacity when it is unclear or a matter of controversy.