Bill to Protect Conserved Estates Passes Legislature

August 30, 2013

SACRAMENTO -- Senate Bill 156, legislation by Sen. Jim Beall that ends the unfair and costly penalizing of conserved adults who challenge questionable billings by estate managers, will be sent to the Governor’s desk for consideration after winning overwhelming approval Friday in the state Senate.

“Senate Bill 156 protects conserved adults from being charged exorbitant fees by their conservator,’’ Beall said. “Today, the law can penalize a conserved person who goes to court to protect his or her estate from being drained by questionable charges or fees. A conserved person should never be placed in the untenable position of financing a fight against their own best interests.

“SB 156 ends this inequity by clarifying the law so that conservatees who win their fee challenges in court will no longer be subjected to reimbursing estate managers for the costs of mounting a defense of those unjustified fees.

“SB 156 will act as a deterrent to any unfair padding of costs, thereby reducing incidences of contested cases.”

The bill’s origin comes from stories filed by the San Jose Mercury News about Danny Reed, a conserved man who won a Superior Court case to stop $108,000 in charges sought by his court-appointed estate manager only to learn that he was legally bound to pay for the estate manager’s $286,000 court costs and attorney’s fees that were racked up to fight the challenge, a process known as “fees-on-fees.’’

This glitch in the law can force California’s conserved elderly and disabled adults to accept the overcharges solely because it will cost more to challenge them in court, win or lose.

SB 156 changes the law, making clear that if a court decides a conservatee was overcharged by their conservator, the conservatee will not be responsible for the costs incurred by the conservator’s defense.

Attorney Matt Crosby, who represented Danny Reed and played a role in shaping the new legislation, said, “SB 156 is a tremendous benefit to conservatees.  It will give them substantial protection from the scourge of "fees-on-fees."’

The bill was praised by Lauren Rolfe, a member of the California Senior Legislature who urged her colleagues to contact the Governor and request that he sign SB 156 into law.

 “This bill prevents seniors and dependent adults from being doubly abused when their conservators charge undeserved or outlandish fees,’’ Rolfe said.