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Elder Law

A Different View of the Case of the Destitute Millionaire

Posted Apr 22, 2010 6:00 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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An Arizona Republic columnist has chronicled the case of Marie Long, who was worth $1.3 million when she suffered a stroke and came under protection of a Maricopa County, Ariz., probate court in 2005.

Today the 88-year-old woman is destitute, and columnist Laurie Roberts has pointed the finger of blame at the judge in the case for approving attorney, guardianship and companion care fees that drained the estate.

But a story in Phoenix New Times has a different take on the case, one that suggests a Phoenix lawyer portrayed as a hero in Roberts’ columns for suing guardians and lawyers is himself motivated by the prospect of lucrative fees. The lawyer, Grant Goodman, has filed three such lawsuits, all claiming RICO violations.

According to the Phoenix New Times, “A growing number of probate court observers worry that Grant Goodman is less a white knight than a shark who smells blood in the water—and that he intends to use Maricopa County's most vulnerable for both good publicity and a fat payday.”

The story questions Goodman’s $100,000 fee in one of the other RICO cases. Goodman touts his 25 years as a litigation attorney, the article says, without mentioning that he spent seven years running a cement company and another seven years litigating claims over its demise. A bankruptcy court judge recently deemed him a vexatious litigator for the corporate litigation, the story says.

For his part, Goodman likes his reputation as the probate court’s worst nightmare. "I'll be the Antichrist before all this is done," he “cheerfully” told the New Times.

The New Times article says high costs are part of a system that requires a substantial number of checks and balances. “That's the nature of the probate beast, unfortunately,” the story says. The Marie Long case is an illustration.

According to the New Times, Long’s court-appointed conservator had recommended assisted living, but her sisters objected and Long’s niece, who was in charge of her estate, acquiesced. The cost of around-the-clock care for Long in her own home was high—$9,000 a month. But the caregivers quit amid family rancor, and Long’s conservator, the Sun Valley Group, hired its own caregivers. The costs rose to $12,000 a month.

Soon Long’s sisters challenged the niece’s work, and the legal costs began to add up. The system’s checks and balances can require as many as six different advocates, including a conservator, two guardians, their lawyers, and a separate court-appointed counsel, all being paid from the estate, the story says.

“Unfortunately, it's all too easy to see how the little old lady's estate ran out of money,” the story says.

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