As we discussed in a previous issue, judges often use Public Administrators as Guardians, Conservators and Personal Representatives in probate matters. We went into detail about the reasons judges use PA’s.
If you did not receive the February newsletter and would like to read the article, just let us know and we will get you a copy. Here we will discuss why you should try to avoid having a PA involved in your or your family’s affairs, and how to reduce your chances of getting a PA.
The PA’s in Michigan can have many hundreds of wards assigned to their office. It is not reasonable to expect that one PA’s office, while managing their own caseload of private clients, can provide attentive, individualized service to hundreds of wards scattered around one or more counties.
Additionally, having a stranger make decisions for a ward’s care is never going to get the same analysis or attention that a loved one can provide in that role. In some cases, this is a benefit, such as making decisions about how to manage a ward’s assets for Medicaid purposes, which can be confusing and difficult for the average person. But many times parties report dissatisfaction with having a PA in charge of their loved one.
All decisions made regarding a ward’s care or finances are the responsibilities of the court-appointed PA. This includes serious financial issues such as the selling the ward’s home, and even day-to-day decisions such as whether the ward can go on a weekend trip with family members up north.
This necessitates advanced planning when dealing with someone under a PA guardianship, as you cannot simply, on the spur of the moment, decide to go visit family on a road trip and take the ward. You must first contact the PA’s office and obtain their permission, and if by chance you have to leave a message, you could be waiting some time to get the necessary approval.
Some people find this surprising and frustrating, when previous to the guardianship, they could easily involve the family member in activities without seeking anyone else’s approval.
Although Guardians, including PA’s, are supposed to be serving the ward’s best interests and assisting the ward with regaining their independence as soon as possible, the reality is that most wards suffer from such severe mental or physical disabilities, that they will never regain their independence.
This leads to the inevitability of once a PA is appointed, the PA may be Guardian and/or Conservator for life. In the case of a PA serving as Personal Representative, the PA likely will continue to serve as PR until the completion of the estate’s administration.
As we discussed previously, the PA is appointed by the judge, even at times against the parties’ or the ward’s wishes, but the PA does not serve for free. The PA bills the ward or estate for their services, meaning you now have an attorney you did not hire, but you must pay attorney fees to!
Often the PAs reduce their regular hourly rate when serving as a court-appointed fiduciary, but the fees will still be significant, and can run in the tens of thousands of dollars (and much more!), especially in the case of family disputes.
While it is impossible to prevent a PA from ever being appointed for you or your estate, planning ahead can greatly reduce the chances of this happening. Executing a Power of Attorney, a Will and certainly a Trust can help lay out your wishes about who you trust to serve on your behalf.
Appointing a responsible, trustworthy person is extremely important, so that the court can have confidence in appointing your chosen Agent. Setting clear expectations as to your wishes and having a comprehensive plan goes a long way in reducing confusion and disputes upon your disability or death.
Of course we cannot stress enough the importance of hiring an attorney who focuses his or her practice on estate planning, rather than choosing DIY methods or working with an attorney who dabbles in many practice areas. Call us today to schedule your free consultation to get your plans in order!