SACRAMENTO — Assemblymember Evan Low’s bill to reform California’s broken conservatorship system passed out of the California Legislature in the closing days of session with unanimous, bipartisan support.
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.
The bill, which would go into effect next year if signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, calls for a formal review of the state’s conservatorship system after previous reforms were passed but never implemented due to budget cuts. AB 1194 was partly inspired by a documentary that detailed the tragic conservatorship case of pop star Britney Spears.
“This bill saw unanimous support throughout the process because we know there are systemic failures when it comes to conservatorships in California,” Assemblymember Low said. “We’ve seen the heartbreaking case of Britney Spears play out in the public eye, but there are hundreds — if not thousands — of other cases in which families are struggling. We need to do everything in our power to help them and their loved ones receive the care and support they need.”
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 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.
“A conservatorship is a very serious undertaking. If we’re going to curtail a person’s liberties and personal freedoms through a conservatorship, at the very least, that person should have the right to select an independent, conflict-free attorney of their choosing to represent them in court,” Senator Allen said. “We’re getting this issue resolved with AB 1194.”
AB 1194 will also 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 in turn is overseen by the Assembly’s 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. “My colleague Assemblymember Low’s AB 1194 works toward a safer and more just future for those living under conservatorships, and I am proud to co-author this important bill to 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.