SACRAMENTO, CA — Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assemblymember Evan Low’s bill AB 1194 into law on Thursday, paving the way for an unprecedented study of California’s broken conservatorship system as well creating reforms that will help prevent the abuse of people who can no longer protect themselves.
Assemblymember Low (D-Silicon Valley), who has an oversight role of fiduciaries as Chair of the Committee on Business and Professions, introduced AB 1194 along with co-authors Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) and Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) to create a comprehensive set of reforms that will ensure California conservators are held to the highest standards.
AB 1194, which some have referred to as the “Free Britney” bill, was partly inspired by a documentary that detailed the tragic conservatorship case of pop star Britney Spears.
“California’s conservatorship system is failing people from every walk of life, whether they are a global superstar whose struggles unfortunately play out in public or a family unsure of how to take care of an elderly parent,” said Assemblymember Low, who also serves as Chair of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus. “This bill saw unanimous, bipartisan support throughout the process because it’s painfully clear that we can and should do better. I want to thank my co-authors, Senator Allen, and Senator Laird, for their leadership on this issue, and I’m grateful to Gov. Newsom for his compassionate approach toward helping California’s conservatees.”
The bill, which will go into effect in 2024, calls for a formal review of the state’s conservatorship system after previous reforms never ended up being implemented due to the 2008 economic recession and budget cuts.
In 2006, the Omnibus Conservatorship and Guardianship Reform Act made it far more expensive for California’s 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 in worse shape than it was before the Reform Act took effect.
AB 1194 also calls for a study of California’s conservatorship system, which would then need to be delivered to the Legislature no later than Jan. 1, 2024. The bill would also change the law by giving conservatees more control over who acts as their counsel.
“This is probably the most consequential civil restriction we have in our court system,” Senator Allen said. “At the very least, those potentially entering conservatorships should have the right to select a conflict-free attorney of their choice to represent them in court.”
AB 1194 will 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.
“Too often articles in the media reveal widespread abuse of vulnerable elders and dependent adults by conservators and deficiencies in the courts’ oversight of conservatorships,” Senator Laird said. “Governor Newsom’s signature of Assemblymember Low’s AB 1194 works toward a safer and more just future for those living under conservatorships, and I am a proud co-author of this important bill that will hold conservators to the highest standard.”
AB 1194 will also:
Require professional fiduciaries to be more transparent about their fees, including posting rates on their websites.
Prohibit a guardian or conservator from being compensated from the estate for any costs or fees that they incurred in unsuccessfully defending their services in court, unless they are found to have acted in good faith.
Prohibit a guardian or trustee who is not a trust company, or an employee of such a guardian or conservator, to hire or refer business to an entity in which they have a financial interest.
Impose sanctions on a professional fiduciary’s license if a breach of duty causes serious financial, physical, or mental. The civil penalty can be as high as $10,000 for each separate act of abuse, payable to the estate of the conservatee.
Revoke a professional fiduciary’s license if the person knowingly, intentionally, or willfully violates a legal duty or breaches a fiduciary duty through gross negligence or gross incompetence.
Enable the court to better review the appropriateness of a conservatorship and investigate allegations of physical or financial abuse of a conservatee by a conservator.
Josh Koehn (Asm. Low)
Shannon Flaherty (Sen. Allen)
Samantha Samuelsen (Sen. Laird)