I recently just finished up dealing with conservatorship in which my client was an heir of the estate. In looking at the billing, I am coming to a conclusion: I should be a professional conservator.
These people billed for every little thing. Every time they picked up the phone, looked at a piece of mail, or scratched their nose it seems, they billed for it. Now, as an attorney, I can appreciate maximizing the billing. However, what gets me is that the conservator seems to be able to bill all his people out at one rate.
For example, the named conservator billed for his time at $100/hr. His assistance, handling ministerial tasks that did not take that much skill (i.e. ordering adult diapers online) billed at $100/hr as well.
It seems like the only one who really benefits when these are the professional conservators. What I have learned in the short time I have been dealing with this matter is that it is very difficult in a probate setting to question the decisions and billings which they make.
The Los Angeles Times had a series of stories on this industry, which I wish I had known about before getting involved in this mess, which outlines the dangers of this unregulated industry. A bill has been passed by the California Legislature which would finally start to regulate this industry, but the last three govenors of California have vetoed similar legislation in the past.
After this, I'm hoping to find another case with a professional conservator at a stage where I can do something more substantive. The way these people treat both the conservatees and the families is just wrong.
So how do you avoid putting your loved one in the position where they will be cared for by these so-called professionals? The alternative is for a family member to step up and act as a conservator. Yes, it is a sacrifice. Yes, it will mean having to do something that people do not like to do, including:
1) Seeing an attorney to talk about your estate planning (Seeing a qualified, reputable attorney now may cost a few hundred dollars, but it will save you a few thousand dollars in fees later.)
2) Making will. (Yes, we do have to think about dying)
3) Makin an advanced health care directive (Its not just about when the plug gets pulled)
4) Establishing a living trust
5) Nominating a conservator in that living trust.
There are probably some other things that you should do, but that is a good place to start. Otherwise, you could end up being cared for by a stranger without the ability to make any of your own decisions.
When I am less angry about the result of this case, I will try and put together a more coherent posting about this industry.
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