Fee for all: How Judges are Raiding Assets of Seniors & Lining Pockets of Conservatorship Attorneys

This forum will explain how the assets of seniors and people with disabilities are often drained in order to pay the fees of a variety of attorneys in probate conservatorship proceedings.

With vague or nonexistent rules and a lack of accountability, judges are making ad hoc and often arbitrary orders requiring conservatees and proposed conservatees to pay unreasonable or excessive legal fees. Not only are they required to pay the fees of lawyers appointed to represent them, they are forced to pay the fees of lawyers representing other parties in the case: petitioner, temporary conservator, guardian ad litem, objector, public guardian, or permanent conservator.

Judges in conservatorship cases are supposed to be conserving the assets of adults who find themselves entangled in these proceedings. Courts know how to conserve assets when they want to or are required to. For example, there are strict procurement rules to follow when courts plan to spend money from the judicial branch budget. Specific guidelines must be followed. Competitive bidding is often required. But the culture of conservation does not exist when judges are spending the money of elderly and often vulnerable adults. The attorneys who are supposed to defend these adults in conservatorship proceedings are often silent when their colleagues in the probate bar are seeking to have the conservatee pay for their fees.

The panelists in this forum will explain how they witnessed or experienced this “fee for all” depleting the assets of a conservatee. The moderator will explain how the Funding and Fees Project of Spectrum Institute plans to tackle this problem with a thorough study of what has been happening in local courts throughout the state. The project will issue a report and recommendations on how to tame this asset-eating beast. The forum will encourage viewers to make a donation to Spectrum Institute to help fund the research and report. The report will document how the current “fee for all” is unconstitutional and will propose specific new protections to preserve the assets of conservatees just as judges protect judicial assets and budgets. What’s good for judges should be good for conservatees: real protection and asset preservation. The report will also urge attorneys for conservatees to raise more objections to fees and file appeals


Denise Michaud


MLF: Grownups

Main image "Beware pickpockets/Attention aux pickpockets" by Paris 16.

Image - Roz Alexander-Kasparik

Roz Alexander-Kasparik

Was only allowed to be conservator for her fiancé David Rector after the court depleted David’s assets with payments of fees to the conservator and attorney

Image - Sharon Holmes

Sharon Holmes

Saw Theresa Jankowski suffer “legalized extortion” when lawyers wanted hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees in exchange for a dismissal of her conservatorship case

Image - Gloria Duffy

Dr. Gloria Duffy

CEO, The Commonwealth Club of California; published “Courts should not be a vehicle for elder financial abuse” based on experience with her mother’s conservatorship

Image - Evan Nelson

Evan Nelson

Attorney; saw Catherine Dubro’s assets being drained when at one point the five attorneys were being paid from her estate, while Catherine herself had no attorney

Image - Debra Bookout

Debra Bookout

Lead attorney of the Guardianship advocacy program, Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada; they do not charge fees to clients and they challenge unreasonable fees from other attorneys

Image - Thomas F. Coleman

Thomas F. Coleman

Legal Director, Spectrum Institute; leads a team studying the “Fee for All” problem in conservatorships and will write a report with major reform proposals—Moderator