Filing for a guardianship or conservatorship case is terrifying when you stress about whether your loved one has enough to pay for court costs they accumulate. This tricky situation can be especially damaging to their financial future if they have a severe mental disability or have undergone elder abuse. These individuals are prone to drain their bank accounts and lose their assets, leaving them with little or nothing when you appoint a conservator.
You may feel stuck choosing between your family member or friend continuing in their incapacitation or going bankrupt from a conservatorship meant to help them. While every case cost varies depending upon the unique circumstances and the individual’s needs, we want to discuss some of the basic fees you should be aware of. Then, we can tell you more about ways to decrease these prices and how a guardian or conservator can help your loved one manage these new balances.
Types of Fees
You will incur fees when filing anything in the courtroom, conservatorships included. The law considers conservatorships as probate cases, and you can find these specific fees by checking your local county and the state of California’s online fee schedules. These will give you a better idea of what kinds of costs the law charges your incapicated loved one.
The costs you pay initially for filing a conservatorship case depend on how much your future case is worth according to state probate code. For example, unlimited civil cases, or local cases with over $25,000 in dispute, have their own fees, while limited civil cases (less than $25,000 in dispute) have different prices.
In addition, your filing fees can increase by a few thousand dollars if the court deems your case to be “complex”. The 2021 California Rules of Court describe these intricate legal battles as “exceptional judicial management to avoid placing unnecessary burdens on the court or the litigants”. All plaintiffs will share a $1000 fee for these extreme situations while each defendant pays $1000 individually (up to $18,000), which will also include complex cases in Los Angeles.
During the Case
The “Probate Fees” section in the state and local court schedules lay out every cost you will pay in the conservatorship proceeding. However, these also include every legal cost for every other probate service, so ensure you note the fees that apply to conservatorships. You should note there is a $435 upfront fee for petitioning a conservator in California state courts.
A judge will send a court investigator (by court orders) to visit your proposed conservatee to assess their mental state, interviewing them personally. They will also drive to their estate and evaluate all their assets’ worth. Both services your family member or friend will have to pay.
Unless you decide to go solo on your conservatorship case, your loved one must pay attorney fees. Different law firms have various agreements on dollar amounts and pricing methods, such as hourly or base pay, or even a price depending on the specific attorney you work with.
After the Case
Since your loved one benefits from conservator services, whether they come from a family member or court-hired stranger, they need to pay those themselves. The law will also obligate them to cover other court fees from their case, which a court-appointed attorney can walk you through what those are. It is important to note that a conservator of the estate will rearrange your loved one’s finances with a detailed budget and create the necessary margin to pay these bills.
Waiving Conservatorship Fees
Our team understands your loved one might be in a difficult financial situation, given they have been irresponsible with money or had money embezzled from an abuser. Thankfully, California courts offer fee waiving for your family member or friend’s conservatorship with court approval. The state does this to help ensure you won’t be stuck sacrificing their financial future for daily life and money assistance.
They will look at the incapacitated adult’s decision-making abilities and income, and the court determines whether your loved one can pay the fees. Judges have expert insight to consider specific case details and waive partial fees when you might expect no legal help at all.
Your family member or friend must meet one of these three qualifications laid out by the state of California to qualify for conservatorship cost waiving:
- If the ward/conservatee receives one of the following public benefits: Medi-Cal, Food Stamps (CalFresh), Cal-Works, General Assistance/General Relief, SSI, SSP, Tribal TANF, IHHS or CAPI;
- If the ward/conservatee’s income, before taxes, is less than the amounts listed on Form FW-001-GC in item 8b; OR
- If the court finds that the ward/conservatee does not have enough income to pay for both the household’s basic needs and the court fees.
How to Ask for a Fee Waiver
After you have completed all the initial filing for your loved one’s conservatorship case, there are specific steps you have to take to ask the courts for a fee waiver. The state of California has a process you can follow to bolster your loved one’s financial security, giving you peace of mind when a conservator enters their life. We recommend discussing this process with an experienced conservatorship lawyer so you do not have to tackle this process alone and have a greater chance of securing fee waiving.
- Read the Information Sheet on Waiver of Superior Court Fees and Costs. This form will explain more about the fee waiving process with the specific legalities they attach, so you understand what responsibilities you should epxect moving forward.
- Fill out the Request to Waive Court Fees (Ward or Conservatee), which is the actual document you will fill out to make your loved one’s fee waiving request known. You will provide you and your lawyer’s general information in addition to arguments supporting why your conservatee needs fees waived.
- The last part of the fee waiving request form will ask you to put your signature under penalty of perjury. If you do not provide accurate information, there will be legal consequences, so double-check your facts and claims
- You will want to make a copy of your Request to Waive Court Fees (Ward or Conservatee) form to keep for your personal records. The other you will turn in to the court clerk, whether at the state or county level. They will inform you of the timeline for the court to process your fee waiving request.
The only difference for this process is if you currently have a conservatorship set in place for a conservatee. In this case, you would fill out a Request to Waive Additional Court Fees (Ward or Conservattee) document and the top of a blank Order on Court Fee Waiver (Ward or Conservatee) document.
Worried about California Conservatorship Costs?
It can still be easy to continue stressing about your loved one being able to afford a conservatorship financially, even after learning the costs. And the courts may still require them to pay the fees as their financial situation improves or at the end of the conservatorship, leaving them with a massive bill to deal with. Nobody should be afraid to petition the courts for legal, especially you and your family.
Our conservatorship and estate planning lawyers specialize in working with people like you to establish your loved one in a conservatorship that offers them freedom from the problems that incapacitated them. We bring an entire team of talented people on board when you work with us to hear your story and walk with you every step of the way.
You can chat with one of our team members online 24/7 on our website or call our main office at (800).840.1998, so we can take care of you and your loved one.