Not to diminish the substantive good work found in the Final Report just issued by the “Committee on Improving Judicial Oversight and Processing of Probate Court Matters” but one recommendation sure to garner notice is the proposal that the Arizona Legislature “could assess $1 for issuance of a death certificate, which could be paid to a fund to use for post-appointment case review, including visitation.”
That the dead may help safeguard the living may strike some as unsettling but we are talking about probate, after all. Moreover, when government budgets are constrained and new revenues are sparse, it’s to the credit of the Committee that they are leaving “no [head]stone unturned” and [don’t pardon the additional pun] “thinking outside the box.”
The Committee extrapolates, “In Arizona in 2009, approximately 45,000 people died. Assuming an average of three death certificates per person were issued, the surcharge would generate $135,000 annually. Assuming an average of five death certificates per person were issued, the surcharge would generate approximately $225,000 annually.”
A good report.
All in all, though, it is good work. The Final Report was released to the public earlier this month and now goes to the Arizona Judicial Council for its review of the Committee’s recommendations on substantive reforms of the Arizona Probate Courts. The report can be accessed at Final Report to AJC – Arizona Judicial Branch. Also see The Arizona Republic’s summary at “Maricopa County Probate Court: Reform weighed to protect life savings.”
The Committee’s work was prompted in large part by public criticism of the probate courts that ratched up, most notably through the intrepid, fearless and unceasing reporting via Laurie Roberts’ Columns & Blog as well as some terrific investigative journalism from The Arizona Republic. See http://www.azcentral.com/news/probate/probate-index.php
But hallelujahs aside, I do have a few bones to pick. For example, there’s the matter concerning the setting of fees, which I believe the Committee dodged, preferring instead to leave it to “guidelines” and market forces, even though much of the criticism is precisely over fees, particularly in Robert Anglen’s careful analysis at “Lawyers often ratchet up fees” where he writes, “Probate attorneys’ hourly rates have risen faster than inflation over the past decade. In 2004, for example, a court-appointed attorney in one complex case charged $160 an hour. By 2008, typical rates had nearly doubled to more than $300 an hour. From 2004 to 2008, inflation rose nationally a little over 15 percent, according to the U.S. Consumer Price Index.”