Conservatorship litigation is nasty business, primarily because at the center of every conservatorship dispute is a helpless conservatee (usually an elder adult) who is caught in the middle of the family fight. 

And that family fight may just cost the parties a good deal of money from their own pocket.  As reported by Marc Alexander and William M. Hensley on their California Attorney’s Fees blog, the California Appellate Court (in Conservatorship of Alcaraz) just made a very harsh example of two conservatorship litigants who thought they deserved reimbursement from the conservatorship estate for their attorneys’ fees.  One party (the winning party) requested over $80,000 in attorney’s fees, and the losing party requested over $40,000. 

The trial court cut the fees request substantially, awarding the winning party $20,000 and the losing party a mere $8,000.  Primarily because the conservatorship estate only had $180,000 in assets and the fee requests would have taken 70 percent of the conservatorship estate.

The winning party appealed the fee ruling, but the appellate court agreed with the trial court.  The bottom line is that the trial court can award what it sees fit, and only amounts that the court feels were spent for the benefit of the conservatee directly are allowable.  Any amounts spent by family members due to a family “spat” is on their dime, not the conservatorship estate.

The costs of litigating conservatorship matters is already higher than other forms for trust and will litigation because the filing fees are excessive, and the parties have to pay in advance for the court investigator to interview the proposed conservatee.  All told, a conservatorship filing can cost as much as $1,750 just in filing fees to the court, not to mention the attorneys fees spent to draft and file the conservatorship pleadings.  And if another family member files a competing petition, and long litigation ensues, that lawsuit may be paid from your own pocket.  A tough result for a family in a tough position.

  • JK

    In what situation would a person not receive reimbursement of legal fees? It appears that because there is an estate to get money from the court awarded both sides with money for their legal fees. And how can one side just request the other side pay their legal fees?

  • Trustees generally are able to pay their fees from the Trust, but no so for beneficiaries. In fact, in many cases, if not most, beneficiaries are left paying for their own fees unless they can prove bad faith on the part of the Trustee. The Trustee, however, pays attorneys fees from the Trust unless the Court determines that such fees were not for the benefit of the Trust. Most beneficiaries feel that every dollar spent on attorneys fees by a Trustee is not to their benefit, but the Court rarely agrees with this point of view.

    It really is a case by case analysis and it can end either way depending ont he facts and the judge.