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How courts handle death is such a mess that even for Walt Disney’s grandson it was no fairy tale

People denied due process, stripped of their pensions, restricted from time with loved ones, drugged and left to develop bedsores motivated me to seek change.

Conversations can be very interesting when a topic as well known as "Disney" comes up. Yet, the same attention is not paid to the topic of probate court, which can often generate a glazed-eyes reaction.

My experience with one has made me familiar with the other.

My son, Brad Disney Lund, the grandson of Walt Disney, has been in protracted probate cases for over a decade. Brad won in Arizona but during our experience and what we learned in the probate system revealed malice beyond that in a fiction story. 

The real-life occurrences invoke questions of fairness in the legal system or how some of these actions can be considered lawful.

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The patterns of problems and the issue of probate abuse is widespread and the Department of Justice has years of documented physical, psychological and sexual abuse, and physical abandonment, and financial exploitation from probate actions. More accounts can be found in simple internet searches. 

People denied due process, stripped of their pensions, restricted from time with loved ones, drugged and left to develop bedsores, pushed into declining health, motivated me to seek change.

Legislative remedies to these problems exist in the Arizona state legislature currently in the form of SB1291 and SB1038. Both legislative texts have secured bipartisan support. These bills are imperative and in my view must become law.

In Arizona, absent these remedies a nurse or physician's assistant could place someone under a court order. A personal physician or a doctor with a much longer history of treating a citizen can be left out of this process entirely. 

The dystopian reality includes families legally being prevented from seeing loved ones, sedation to keep the person "calm," liquidation of assets and personal belongings, a likely change of residence to fit the needs of the guardian, who now bills the ward for every aspect of care – for example, $25 to open each piece of mail, even junk mail. 

The wards lose the right to vote, the right to drive, the ability to choose their doctor. Essentially all decision-making power is forfeited and given to the guardian, who is a stranger and is appointed by the courts in most cases. 

Probate does not require great wealth or being elderly. When a guardian is appointed over someone, it usually means that a conservator is appointed over the estate. It can be for any number of reasons, ranging from a bank account problem or unexpected hospitalization to a family squabble over who takes care of a person.

These reasons can trigger the need for an intervention and usher in court-appointed attorneys, fiduciaries and guardians. With little oversight, it overturns individuals' civil rights and their life is no longer under their control.

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The money that flows through the system makes it ripe for corruption. The U.S. has an estimated 1.3 million probate cases with $50 billion under management and $16.9 billion drained from retirement accounts, family trusts and lifetime savings of baby boomers alone. In many cases, it is the court-appointed players receiving these funds – nicknamed "probate pirates" due to their ease at liquidating assets while staying in the gray zone of legality.

The legislation being voted on this week in Arizona will help remedy the problems by installing clear and immovable protections for people’s rights, and it is a fight that is needed to stop the abuses going on in the probate system.

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