Elder Law

Elderly Millionaire Is Destitute After Payment of Fees for Lawyers and Care

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Marie Long 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, Marie Long, is destitute after a judge approved $786,000 in attorney, guardianship and companion-care fees for the woman, columnist Laurie Roberts writes in the Arizona Republic. The woman’s onetime guardian, the Sun Valley Group, had assigned itself as Long’s caregiver, charging $235,000 for companion care and $182,000 for guardianship duties, Roberts wrote in a separate column last month.

Itemized charges included $32.50 to go to the bank for Long, $106 to pick up hearing aid batteries, and $62 to discuss a kitchen grease fire caused by a Sun Valley employee, Roberts says.

Judge Lindsay Ellis blamed Long’s court-appointed lawyer, as well as two lawyers for Long’s sisters, for driving up costs, Roberts says. The judge said the lawyers’ “venomous” and “hateful” attacks on the trustee, the guardian and their attorneys resulted in costly litigation.

But Roberts says it’s wrong to blame the three lawyers challenging the fees and instead points the finger at Ellis.

“The court that is supposed to be protecting people like Marie Long is doing no such thing,” Roberts writes. “Instead, the court is allowing a cozy group of lawyers and fiduciaries who are appointed to help vulnerable people help themselves to a nice pile of cash—until the money is gone, at which time the ‘ward’ is dumped onto the taxpayers.”

Now the Sun Valley Group is seeking sanctions against the two lawyers who represented the sisters, alleging they had no standing to sue for breach of fiduciary duty. The lawyers’ suit had contended Sun Valley had a duty to investigate whether the Arizona Department of Veterans Services could have served as Marie’s guardian, at a cost of only $75 a month.

Roberts decries the turn of events, especially since the lawyers worked for free. “This, apparently, is what you get in probate for trying to advocate for a defenseless widow,” she writes.

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