SACRAMENTO, CA — Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley), Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) and Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) on Friday announced the introduction of multiple pieces of legislation to address California’s conservatorship system and better protect vulnerable people from potential fraud and abuse.
Assemblymember Low introduced AB 1194, a comprehensive bill to reform California’s conservatorship system by ensuring fiduciaries are supported and held to the highest standard while closing loopholes in a system that lacks accountability and transparency. As the Chair of the Committee on Business and Professions, Assemblymember Low has led oversight of California fiduciaries. The systemic failures in California’s conservatorship process were magnified in a recent documentary about pop star Britney Spears.
“We know that many of the people placed in conservatorships are seniors and there are good actors — children, siblings and parents — who are trying their best to protect their loved ones. But there are also conservators taking advantage of people who are vulnerable to abuse,” Assemblymember Low said. “AB 1194 will pull back the curtain on what’s happening with conservatorships in California and bring long-overdue accountability and transparency.”
In 2006, the Omnibus Conservatorship and Guardianship Reform Act made it much more expensive for conservators, conservatees, and the court system to establish and maintain conservatorships. However, many of the reform efforts were defunded due to the economic recession in 2008. In many ways, the conservatorship system is now worse off than it was before the Reform Act took effect. Additionally, the laws passed in 2006 did nothing to help people avoid conservatorships, create resources for the families of impaired persons, or provide funding to make the existing system work better.
AB 1194 will require nonprofessional conservators who oversee an estate worth more than a million dollars to register as a professional, help conservators get training, and require conservators to provide more transparency in their billing.
AB 1194 will also:
• Create a fiduciary registration requirement for all nonprofessional conservators who oversee an estate valued at more than $1 million dollars.
• Create transparency by requiring all licensed fiduciaries to post their fees on their website.
• Toughen laws to revoke a license or registration if a fiduciary is not acting in the best interest of their client.
• Create a process for the courts to report all investigations to the Professional Fiduciaries Bureau, which is overseen by the Department of Consumer Affairs, which is overseen by the Committee on Business and Professions.
• Require a court-appointed investigator to gather relevant medical reports, including one from their primary care physician.
• Creates a civil penalty of up to $50,000 if the court finds the conservator has not acted in the best interest of the client.
• Make it clear that a conservator cannot hire or refer any business to an entity in which they have a financial interest.
• Prohibit the conservator from being compensated from the estate in defending the compensation in the petition.
In addition to AB 1194, legislators in the California State Senate have introduced two other bills to reform conservatorships in California.
Senator Laird’s SB 602 will require conservators to submit a care plan to the court, attorneys for the conservator, the conservatee, and the conservatee’s spouse or family member within 30 days of a conservatorship being granted, or this must happen during a review of the conservatorship from the courts. The Judicial Council of California would be required to create the form and include information about the care of the conservatee and their possessions.
“Society has a responsibility to care for and protect the most vulnerable among us and nowhere is the responsibility of that more apparent than in conservatorships,” Senator Laird said. “With SB 602, we ensure care plans are properly detailed and reviewed by courts, certifying transparent fairness for those living under conservatorships.”
Senator Allen introduced SB 724 to give conservatees in California the right to obtain legal counsel of their preference. Currently, only attorneys on a court-approved list can represent conservatees. This means that a conservatee who wants to petition the court to change or end a conservatorship may only do so using attorneys that the court itself approves.
“When someone wants to limit the civil liberties and personal freedoms of Californians through a conservatorship, proposed conservatees should have the right to select an attorney of their own choosing to defend them in court.” Senator Allen said. “Why should the same rights and due process we guarantee criminal defendants not also be given to conservatees?”