On Tuesday, September 24, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that was designed to stop estate conservators and their lawyers from taking excessive fees from the elderly and disabled. These individuals rely on California courts to oversee their care. This California estate administration fee bill, Senate Bill 156, was introduced by Senator Jim Beall.
In a series of news articles, entitled “Loss of Trust,” the issue of probate fee gouging of the elderly and disabled was uncovered. An example that was cited involved the case of Danny Reed, who finally won a lengthy court battle designed to protect his savings from a court-appointed trustee and a team of lawyers. The problematic feature of California probate courts is that the elderly and disabled adults are required to pay the legal expenses for their court-appointed trustees and lawyers if they bring a court battle challenging the fees charged to them by these same individuals. In Mr. Reed’s case, he brought a challenge over $108,000 in fees charged for approximately four months of work. As a result, the trustee billed Mr. Reed another $146,000 for the costs of defending the original charges.
Senator Beall’s bill was designed to prevent this type of fee-on-fee charging. The governor, however, issued a statement on Tuesday that he was forced to veto the bill due to a late amendment that limited judges’ ability to award fees in some cases. Governor Brown noted that he desired to leave the ability for judges to exercise their discretion regarding compensation for defense costs.
Fortunately for Mr. Reed, an appellate court found in his favor. Others may not be so lucky, however. Critics of the bill claim that the final bill was “watered down” and therefore not effective. These critics include Mr. Reed’s current attorney, Matt Crosby. The Professional Fiduciary Association of California has also voiced opposition for the bill.
To learn more about fees and California estate administration, contact an Anaheim trust attorney today at (714) 459-5481.