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Proposal to lower Ca. conservators' fees heads to hearing

An article published in a California newspaper last summer led to a task force and a proposal that could change fees paid to conservators of the estates of dependent adults. Court officials in Santa Clara County are considering rules that would limit what court-appointed estate administration officials charge for services.

The published report stated that estate managers like trustees, lawyers and conservators charged as much as $330 an hour and nearly $300,000 annually to handle estate complexities for incapacitated adults. Officials have called the charges "exorbitant" and put together a new fee structure that would slash the maximum hourly rate in half.

Services that did not require extensive work like the routine management of a pet or a simple purchase could not be billed by estate managers at the highest rate. Officials want the pay to match the workload of conservators. Fees would be capped at $165 an hour, with lower rates for uncomplicated tasks. Officials want charges that are now made for vague services and corrections for managers' errors to be dropped. Monthly invoices would be required to detail the work an estate manager has done to earn the established fees.

The public hearing on the proposal to reduce estate managers' fees will be followed by input from local judges. State lawmakers will receive the measure by mid-November.

In between the time the public has a chance to voice an opinion about the measure and the next step, the task force may consider even further restrictions that would slim down fees for attorneys of fiduciaries. The sponsoring officials want to concentrate on reducing "fees-on-fees," additional legal charges tacked on to the bills of incapacitated adults in certain circumstances.

Provided no objections surface to stop the task force's mission to curb estate management costs, enactment of the rules would take effect Jan. 1, 2013. The radical fee change would follow the initial publication of the article about conservators' charges by just six months.

Source: mercurynews.com, "California lawmaker calls on the public to help protect incapacitated adults from excessive fees in probate court," Karen de Sá, Oct. 22, 2012

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