Here’s a different presentation approach – please do pass it along to your contacts and people who would be interested. This is an important topic that needs more discussion. Thank you. Dave Tate, Esq. (San Francisco and California)
The following is a good discussion by Carolyn Rosenblatt, on a topic that is ongoing for many, many families – can you stop an aging parent from self-neglect at home? The link to Carolyn’s article is provided below.
When is it self-neglect or self-abuse, and what can or do you do about it?
Unless you have the cooperation of the parent (and other family members), and the needed financial, insurance coverage, and time resources, and know who to contact, the issues are even more difficult to resolve. I see many family members who are dealing with these issues in trust, power of attorney, and conservatorship situations. What are the responsibilities/duties and rights, and what options are available and can be achieved? I am also aware of one California case involving a finding of elder abuse in a situation where family members did not take action to try to remedy the situation.
These issues are or can be difficult even with cooperation and resources. To see Carolyn’s article, CLICK HERE.
Dave Tate, Esq. San Francisco and California
I was initially going to make this discussion as a video, and I still might; however, the video obviously takes more time. Below is the discussion about California conservatorships – specifically, what is a California conservatorship, an overview.
First – a reminder and an obligatory disclaimer – this discussion is only a summary of a complicated topic. You need to consult with an attorney about your situation. You cannot rely on this discussion for your situation. And this is not a solicitation for services inside or outside of California, I only represent clients in California, I don’t know anything about your situation or case, and you have not hired me for your situation or case.
Now, that having been said, the following is an overview discussion about California conservatorships.
A conservatorship is a court proceeding where the court legally appoints someone to make and manage personal, medical, daily living, residential placement, or financial matters and decisions for another person.
The person whose rights are being taken away or limited is called the conservatee. The person who is being appointed to manage matters and make decisions for the conservatee is called the conservator.
A conservatorship is a serious legal proceeding because the court, which is a state governmental entity, is being petitioned to take away or limit some of the prospective conservatee’s freedoms and personal and constitutional rights.
The conservatee has the right to fight or oppose the conservatorship, who might be appointed, and the powers of the conservator. And a prospective conservatee has the right to a jury trial.
You might ask, when is a conservatorship needed? Typically a conservatorship might be needed when a person can no longer make and manage the personal, medical or financial matters and decisions for herself or himself, and she or he hasn’t legally appointed someone else to handle those matters and decisions.
So, for example, a conservatorship might be needed if there are no, or insufficient, power of attorney and trust documents, and the person no longer has the mental capacity to execute those documents or refuses to do so.
On the other hand, a conservatorship should not be granted if there is a less restrictive way to provide the help or assistance that is needed, and if the court grants the petition for conservatorship, the court can order only the least restrictive terms, conditions and limitations that are necessary under the circumstances.
The person who is petitioning for conservatorship has the burden of producing sufficient admissible evidence to establish that the court should grant the conservatorship. Conservatorship proceedings can be very contentious.
If a conservatorship is granted, the case remains with the court for future review of the actions taken or not taken by the conservator, accountings if the conservatorship is of the estate, and whether the conservatorship is still needed.
Often a conservator is required to make very important and serious decisions. The conservatee and other people can oppose or object to what the conservator is going to do or has done. Sometimes the case will go back to court for the court to make decisions or orders.
The conservator needs to be represented by an attorney. The conservatee will be represented by an attorney if the conservatee requests one. And in conservatorship disputes it is common for other family members or friends to also be represented by legal counsel.
Recent California conservatorship court decisions have dealt with conservatee’s rights including the right to a jury trial, and in a very recent case the appellate court overruled the trial court, holding that the conservatorship should not have been granted because a friend had instead offered to provide the help and assistance that the prospective conservatee needed.
I have already explained that a prospective conservatee has the right to oppose the conservatorship, and to a jury trial.
You should also be aware that if the conservatorship is granted, the conservatee might also continue to disagree with decisions and actions that are being made or taken.
And I have also seen situations where the preexisting relationship between the conservatee and the conservator was forever damaged, and situations where the prospective conservatee, or the actual conservatee if the conservatorship was granted, then sought to disinherit the person who petitioned for conservatorship or who was appointed by the court to serving as the conservator.
There are many provisions in the California Probate Code that discuss conservatorship proceedings and duties and rights. There are too many provisions to cover in these materials. However, generally you can look at Probate Code sections 1400 through 3212. Other Probate Code sections are also applicable.
In addition to the conservatee’s rights, I also find particularly interesting and important the provisions that relate to conservator duties and decision making, including how the conservator should go about making decisions and what to consider, possibly including the wishes of the conservatee.
Dave Tate, Esq., San Francisco and California
On July 14, 2016, the California Court of Appeal for the Sixth District issued its decision in Gregge v. Hugill, Case No. HO40663. Viewed most simply, the Court determined that Appellant had standing to bring his petition under California Probate Code section 17200 in which he alleged lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence and elder abuse, and that Probate Code section 17202 and another beneficiary’s disclaimer did not operate to defeat or eliminate Appellant’s pecuniary interest and standing to bring his petition and for trial thereon.
But viewed in its entirety, the decision in Gregge v. Hugill affirms policies that favor a party’s entitlement to a determination on the issues and the claims alleged, arguably disfavors claim forfeiture arguments, and affirms that estate planning document, i.e., will and trust, and inheritance contest determinations and findings should be based on the decedent’s intent.
The following are six snapshots from the opinion in Gregge v. Hugill which will provide you with some of the Court’s insight (the first snapshot is only of the case caption).
This stuff goes on all the time – probably because it can be so easy to make phone calls. The following is a link to the US Department of Justice news release about a call center operation to defraud the elderly, partially operated in the US. It’s very difficult to stop phone calls. The efforts to prevent this type of abuse must start at home with good-intentioned family and friends. Here’s the link to the DoJ news release, CLICK HERE. You can contact me if you need legal action to stop or remedy elder abuse, (415) 917-4030. Dave Tate, Esq., San Francisco and throughout northern and southern California.
Surprisingly, there is very little statutory or case law discussing:
-Attorney in fact decision making under a power of attorney document;
-When the power of attorney becomes effective;
-If the principal is making the decisions;
-When is the named attorney in fact actually acting as an attorney in fact under the power of attorney;
-Is the attorney in fact a fiduciary, and if he or she is actually acting as a fiduciary, for what is he or she a fiduciary;
-Can someone be acting as a fiduciary in some situations or with respect to some issues and decisions, but at the same time not for other situations, issues and decisions (and related, the principal doesn’t necessarily lose decision making over all situations, issues and decisions, right?); and
-The specifics of whether acting as a fiduciary in a particular situation does or does not switch the burden of proof, and if it does, in what manner, to what extent, and for what events or actions is the burden of proof switched?
These are all important issues, and they are becoming more important. Cases that deal with powers of attorney or even these issues usually don’t go into detail, but many times simply find in a conclusory fashion that someone was a fiduciary so for all purposes and for all events or actions the burden of proof is shifted, and all depending on the judgment of the trier of fact which is often a single judge. I submit that this approach is way to simplistic, conclusory and lacking in critical legal analysis.
The California Probate Code provides that agency law applies to power of attorney, attorney in fact, and principal issues, unless the Probate Code contains a provision that states otherwise or that directly addresses the issue at hand. I very seldom hear discussions in court about statutes that address powers of attorney, or actions and responsibilities and decision making thereunder. The following are a couple of those statutes.
California Probate Code Section 4234 – (a) To the extent reasonably practicable under the circumstances, an attorney-in-fact has a duty to keep in regular contact with the principal, to communicate with the principal, and to follow the instructions of the principal.
California Probate Code Section 4657 – A patient is presumed to have the capacity to make a health care decision, to give or revoke an advance health care directive, and to designate or disqualify a surrogate. This presumption is a presumption affecting the burden of proof.
California Probate Code Section 4684 – An agent shall make a health care decision in accordance with the principal’s individual health care instructions, if any, and other wishes to the extent known to the agent. Otherwise, the agent shall make the decision in accordance with the agent’s determination of the principal’s best interest. In determining the principal’s best interest, the agent shall consider the principal’s personal values to the extent known to the agent.
As you can see, the attorney in fact, assuming that he or she is in fact acting under the power of attorney and as an attorney in fact for the specific situation, issue or action at hand, should be communicating with the principal about important issues and the principal’s wishes and decisions with respect to those issues. And there is or might be an actual or implied presumption that the principal has decision making capacity and is making the decision in that circumstance.
Dave Tate, Esq., San Francisco and throughout California, http://californiaestatetrust.com
I have attached below a pdf of this new California Appellate Court decision in which the Appellate Court overruled a trial court order granting a LPS conservatorship. I have attached the pdf of the entire decision because the decision is lengthy in its discussion of the facts, and only by reading the decision will you get a feel for how difficult it might be to establish that a conservatorship should be granted. And you should read other prior blog posts by me discussing conservatorship issues, including the rights of the prospective conservatee. Also note in my prior posts the crossover that there can be between the legal authorities that relate to LPS conservatorships and general probate court conservatorships. Thus, although Conservatorship of Jesse G. is a LPS conservatorship, the reasoning of the Court, and some or perhaps even most of the legal authorities cited, might also equally apply in a general probate court conservatorship proceeding.
As you read the decision in Conservatorship of Jesse G., note the facts that could arguably suggest that the prospective conservatee might need help, and arguably that the conservatorship could be granted. The Appellate Court (similar to the trial court) also notes that the case is a close call. Also note that it isn’t certain that the help or assistance that the friend offered to provide to the prospective conservatee will be sufficient, or that it will be lasting over time. And yet, the Appellate Court concludes that under the circumstances of the case, the granting of the conservatorship was not legally justified. And some of the reasons why the Court reached that decision have to do with the burden of proof that is required, and that preference to less restrictive measures must be given.
Here is a link to a pdf of the decision Conservatorship of Jesse G. – discussing evidence that a LPS conservatorship should not have been granted
Dave Tate, Esq., San Francisco Bay Area and throughout California.