In a probate conservatorship, it was error for the trial court to delegate to the public guardian discretion to defer collection of the ordered attorney and guardian fees if necessary to avoid imposing a hardship on the conservatee. A.B. was subject to a probate conservatorship on and off for 20 years. Most recently, the public guardian sought compensation from A.B.’s estate for services rendered by the public guardian and by the county counsel from March 2018 until dismissal of the conservatorship in September 2019. The trial court ordered fees in the requested amounts, finding them to be just, reasonable, and necessary to sustain the support and maintenance of A.B. The court ordered the public guardian to defer collection of payment if it determined that collection would impose a financial hardship on A.B. Social security was the only source of income for A.B, who had no other assets. On appeal, A.B. argued that the accounting for the fees was insufficient, and that it was error to grant the public guardian discretion to defer collection. Held: Compensation order reversed. Probate Code section 2942, subdivision (b) authorizes payment to the public guardian from the estate of the conservatee in a “just and reasonable” amount. In determining what is “just and reasonable,” the court “shall, among other factors, take into consideration . . . whether the compensation requested might impose an economic hardship on the estate.” (§ 2942, subd. (b).) Here, the court had sufficient information before it to enable consideration of the enumerated factors, but failed to do so and improperly delegated responsibility to the public guardian. “If payment of the ordered fees would impose a financial hardship on the conservatee, the conservatee is not obliged to have an unpaid order hanging over him or her, subject to the public guardian’s discretion whether to attempt collection.” Accordingly, the court reversed the order awarding compensation and remanded for reconsideration that includes consideration of A.B.’s financial circumstances.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/A160473.PDF