A state lawmaker and a prominent advocate for the elderly and disabled are calling for greater public input, as Santa Clara County court officials consider new ways to curb fees that estate managers charge incapacitated adults.
Assemblyman Jim Beall and Sarah Triano, executive director of the Silicon Valley Independent Living Center, will hold a public hearing Wednesday in San Jose on proposed rules now before the Superior Court. The hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Alquist State Building, 100 Paseo de San Antonio.
Beall, a San Jose Democrat, said the event would allow residents to help “protect dependent adults from exorbitant conservatorship fees” first reported by this newspaper in July.
As detailed in the newspaper’s investigation “Loss of Trust,” court-appointed conservators, trustees, and their attorneys have charged almost $300,000 for a single year’s work managing the lives of dependent adults, at rates up to $330 an hour. Court officials acted quickly after the public exposure, convening a task force just weeks after the newspaper reports, and proposing new court rules after just 21/2 months.
Assistant Presiding Judge Brian Walsh will appear at Wednesday’s public hearing to answer questions about the new rules, which must be approved by local judges on Nov. 15 before being sent to state officials. Absent any challenges, the new rules would take effect Jan. 1.
As currently drafted, they would tamp down hourly rates, require mandatory monthly invoices, and create new guidelines so that hourly fees match the difficulty of tasks performed. Proposed maximum rates of $165 an hour, for example, could not be charged for small tasks such as consulting with a colleague, buying a birthday present, or checking on a pet. Miscellaneous overhead and other ill-defined monthly charges would be disallowed under the new rules, as well as charges for fiduciaries to correct their own accounting mistakes.
Triano said the proposed changes are a good start, but more input is needed from the hundreds of people at the heart of conservatorship cases.
“We want the senior and disability community to support the courts in their efforts to reform the rules,” Triano said, noting that “the abuse of conservator fees by some fiduciaries within our county” affects residents of all ages. “We need to make sure that our sisters and brothers with disabilities have some say into an issue that is going to directly impact them — and that is impacting them.”
The task force that helped craft the new rules includes both Beall and Triano, as well as local attorneys and fiduciaries. The group meets again Oct. 30 to develop further constraints on excessive charges, this time focusing on fees for fiduciaries’ attorneys, and the predicament known as “fees-on-fees,” which leaves the disabled adult paying for all sides of legal disputes over unfair charges.
Assemblyman Beall, who is running for state Senate, has vowed to pursue statewide legislation with the assistance of local advocates and court officials that he says would protect all Californians from “fees-on-fees.”
HEARING ON CONSERVATOR FEES
When: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesday
Where: ground-floor auditorium of the Alquist State Building, 100 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose.
California lawmaker calls on the public to help protect incapacitated adults from excessive fees in probate court
Karen de Sá
October 22, 2012