As legislators and concerned citizens throughout the state have discussed revising AZ probate law, it has been interesting to see how different events have shaped the nature of the debate. As is often the case with the law, unforeseen events can shape the way legislation is drafted and implemented, and the upcoming changes to the Arizona Probate Code have been no exception to this process. Take Senate Bill 1499, for instance, which its detractors allege was drafted as a direct result of the Walt Disney probate battle that is underway in Arizona Probate Court.
If you recall, Walt Disney’s granddaughter, Michelle, filed a petition to create a conservatorship for her developmentally disabled brother, Brad, several months ago. According to Michelle, her father, Bill Lund, is using her brother’s money for his personal gains. She worries that unless the court appoints a conservator to step in, her father will continue to use her brother’s money for his personal endeavors. Brad and Bill, on the other hand, maintain that Bill has not breached his fiduciary obligations, and they both oppose the conservatorship vehemently.
Brad Lund hired the services of a valley attorney to research and draft SB 1499. As we have discussed before, the bill contains a provision that allows the court to impose penalties on anybody who brings unmeritorious challenges to fiduciary relationships. Although supporters of SB 1499 maintain that the proposed legislation is not intended to influence the Disney case, it is notable that if it were enacted, it might apply to the facts as presented by Brad and Bill Lund.
Of course, we are yet to see how all of this will play out. We cannot say for certain whether Brad and Bill hoped to change the law to work in their favor. And, moreover, we cannot say for certain whether the bill will ever get adopted. One way or another, however, it is interesting to see how cases that come before the court can influence Arizona probate law.