The Filing Fees:
Let us pretend that you are a major corporation in Los Angeles County, Acme Corp., suing another major corporation, Delta Corp. You choose to utilize the judicial system to improve your economic bottom line. Each party (plaintiffs and defendants) accessing the judicial system will pay a one-time appearance fee of $465. Need a three-week bench trial to get all of that indispensable testimony on the record? Just pay the court reporter for her services, but otherwise, the judge and the courtroom will be provided for the one-time appearance fee of $465.00.
Now let’s pretend that you are someone who is incapable of taking care of yourself, perhaps you are a frail elderly person afflicted with dementia, or maybe you were born with a congenital defect and are a developmentally disabled person, or maybe a horrific accident suddenly rendered you cognitively impaired. You require court involvement because of circumstances beyond your control and there is NO alternative procedure available. Your estate will be charged an initial appearance fee of $465.00 (plus “e-filing fees” if you hire an attorney – making it actually over $480.00) to have a conservator appointed to make medical and/or financial decisions for you. Your estate will be charged an additional $605 for the Probate Investigators office to interview you and a few persons interested in you about whether or not the conservatorship is warranted.
A conservator is appointed for you.
Later, maybe with a few months, if you are unable to live in your home, and your residence needs to be sold, your conservator will pay another $465 from your funds for a petition to determine whether the sale of your home is appropriate.
Your estate will pay a few hundred dollars for a mandatory – and pretty much useless – publication informing the world that your real property is going to be sold, and hundreds of dollars more for a court-appointed referee to put his opinion of the value your house down on a document called an “Inventory and Appraisal.” Never mind that there are literally hundreds of online and easily accessible methods of obtaining that information for free. The Court will insist that you pay for an appraisal because that’s the law!
Once a buyer is found, your conservator will pay yet another $465 to file a Report of Sale and Petition to Confirm Sale.
You will pay an additional $465 if, after your initial hearing, your conservator determines that he needs to have exclusive authority to make medical decisions for you – such as scheduling doctor appointments and administering medications.
Your conservator will again pay – from your estate – a $465 fee to file their “First Account Current.”
Heaven help the individual with a complicated estate or difficult family situation. A conservator will pay $465 for almost every single petition filed, and yet another $465 for each objection.
On average, in the first year of an uncontested conservatorship proceeding, the filing fees and mandatory court costs are over $3,000.
Civil litigants, however, pay a single fee to file a complaint and cross-answer, or, an answer and cross-complaint, and of course, a jury trial, lasting weeks or months, if they ask for one. One. Filing. Fee.
In Los Angeles County – unlike any other county in the state – each and every petition for appointment of a conservator is automatically assigned a “PVP” attorney. PVP stands for Probate Volunteer Panel attorney, a misleading acronym because only the attorney’s presence on the panel is voluntary. Once assigned, this is very much a paid assignment.
The statutory authority for appointing an attorney in a conservatorship, LPS conservatorship or guardianship proceeding is Probate Code Section 1470 which states as follows:
“1470. (a) The court may appoint private legal counsel for a ward, a proposed ward, a conservatee, or a proposed conservatee in any proceeding under this division if the court determines the person is not otherwise represented by legal counsel and that the appointment would be helpful to the resolution of the matter or is necessary to protect the person’s interests”.
So what happens in Los Angeles County when there is no controversy? No objections? What happens when the conservatee and her family are all in agreement regarding the petition? The Court will still appoint a PVP attorney, to be paid $250 an hour.
Here’s a glimpse of how this works:
Rebecca S. – Mrs. S. had a stroke and lapsed into a coma, where she remained for several months. Her son, who had statutory priority to be appointed as her conservator since she was unmarried, petitioned to be her conservator. Her PVP counsel charged her estate $1,800 to advise the Court that a conservator was necessary and appropriate for the unconscious proposed conservatee.
Rito C. – Mr. C. suffered a catastrophic brain injury and his family agreed to have a private professional fiduciary appointed to handle his significant worker’s compensation settlement. The decision was unanimous; there was no familial dissent. Mr. C’s PVP attorney billed for 17 hours to inform the Court that the conservatorship was necessary and appropriate. Mr. C. appeared at Court, with his family, and they were all in agreement. The PVP was paid $4,250 from the estate.
Aida A. – $2,800 was ordered to be paid to PVP from an estate of less than $50,000. Mrs. A. suffers from such severe dementia she could barely respond to questions, as verified in the Probate Investigator’s Report. The PVP attorney charged Mrs. A. over 5 hours for preparing his report which consisted of one paragraph of “mandatory disclosures,” a paragraph describing his entitlement to fees, and 3 other paragraphs describing his visit with Mrs. A, her lack of response, and why a conservatorship was necessary and appropriate. In the very court that was designed to protect incompetent adults, the “court-appointed attorney” charged over 5 hours to write a 3 paragraph report. And his fee of $2,800 was approved without question.
So far, an uncontested, uncomplicated conservatorship matter in Los Angeles County is costing about $5,000, or maybe $4,000 if the sale of a home is not involved.
The Conservator’s Counsel:
If the petitioner is also represented by counsel, which is often the case because working through the complex and myriad proceedings is extremely difficult, the conservator’s attorneys are also paid. After 20 years of practice, I would say that for the least complicated cases, it still takes a minimum of 15 hours to work through the first year of a conservatorship proceeding. Assuming the average hourly rate for counsel, myself included, is $350.00 an hour, the fees would be $5,250.00.
In total, the legal fees for the conservator’s attorneys, court costs (which are universally charged throughout the State of California) and the PVP fees, which occur solely in Los Angeles County as a local mandate, are adding up to over $10,000 – and remember – this is assuming no objections or controversy is presented.