Trust a Probate Attorney, Not the Courts!

Last month, an audit of Colorado's probate courts uncovered shocking discoveries of the court's failure to lawfully enact the policies necessary to regulate laws regarding matters of probate, guardianship and conservatorship. No one was exempt from the faulty management that occurred in Colorado, as adults and children were all among those left unprotected as a result of the neglectful inattention.

Reports indicate that the underlying problem was primarily with the court's inability to notify persons deemed as guardians or conservators of essential information and legal responsibilities required of them. Therefore, there was virtually no way for them to know that the financial assets and wellbeing of those who entrusted their livelihoods to them were now of their responsibility. For example, one man was left un-notified of his guardianship responsibilities for ten years simply because the probate courts in Colorado never contacted him. Another case highlighted the courts' failures by exposing the fact that a deceased person's death in 2003 went completely unnoticed until auditors touched base with the court to request information about the lack of financial reports on file regarding the case.

In both of these instances, the estates, finances, belongings, etc…of a person were left unguarded, unprotected and unappreciated because Colorado court officials failed to live up to the details of their job. It begs the question: How many more instances of this type of lapse have gone undocumented?

The answer to that question can be somewhat ascertained by the audit's sample findings. In one random sampling of 55 cases, state officials discovered cases as shocking as that of a conservator who spent more than 400% of a person's financial plan estimations. More cases arose to shine light on the damage that can be done when courts do not live up to their job duties; cases such as the one in which almost $1,000 of the amount estimated in a "protected" individual's financial plan was blown at retail stores without so much as the blink of an eye by probate court practitioners.

The insulting results of the audit only become more so when further report reflection which indicate the state courts' practice of occasionally choosing to forego the required background checks that are supposed to be conducted on a potential conservator or guardian. Over $2 million was stolen from the estate of one ward who entrusted the wellbeing of their finances to a person whom they believed the courts had pre-approved as responsible and trustworthy. Their trust was misplaced on many levels, for not only were they betrayed by a person on whom they believed they could rely, they were further betrayed by a state legal system meant to provide security and comfort – not ill-ease and upset.

Probate courts are meant to appoint and monitor conservators and guardians to those unable to do so themselves. This may apply to young children, sickly adults or the elderly, but no matter what the need for legal intervention may be people expect that it is being done properly and reliably. In the case of Colorado, this could not be further from the truth.

More cases were documented that shine light on just how much damage can be done by inattention and/or disregard of mandatory reporting and follow-up requirements. However, they are hardly necessary when the message has already come across loud and clear: In some cases, probate courts cannot be trusted.

For individuals who have recently lost a loved one, there is nothing more important than finding a qualified and reputable probate attorney to attend to the legal matters that follow the passing of an individual. While it might feel as if the last thing you want to do is further explore the depths of what this passing means for you and your family, if left unattended there is no telling what the courts will – or wont – do on your behalf. Taking action to ensure that probate defense is on yours side is one of the most important responsibilities after a death, and one that can clearly be handled much more professionally and responsibly than some courts.