A broken system

Dave Jones is a California assemblyman representing Sacramento’s 9th District

California’s conservatorship system for elderly and dependent adults, originally designed to protect vulnerable adults from fraud and abuse, is broken.

The current system allows private conservators to get themselves appointed inappropriately. Some steal or mismanage the money their conservatees spent a lifetime earning. Most public guardians and probate courts do not have the resources to help. Worst of all, the system provides no place to turn for help.

Consider the case of Helen Jones. She is an alert, responsible and self-sufficient 87-year-old who worked hard and saved a modest amount for her retirement. Without her consent, the court approved a conservator to manage all of her affairs. In a short period, the conservator spent $200,000 of Helen’s money on things Helen never wanted. The conservator doles out a meager allowance and decides which doctors she will see. The conservator has ignored some of Helen’s most important wishes, like having her brother cremated instead of buried.

To fix the system, I recently introduced Assembly Bill 1363, the Omnibus Conservatorship Reform Act of 2006.

First, the bill requires annual court review and audits for all conservatorships.

Second, my bill provides increased resources and training for conservatorship courts, and more court investigators to provide oversight of conservators. The courts also will be required to provide assistance to family members and friends who are acting as conservators.

Third, the legislation requires private conservators to be fully licensed and regulated by the Department of Consumer Affairs. The attorney general will have the power to enforce regulations and requirements and to hold conservators accountable.

A.B. 1363 also will prevent abusive practices by establishing statewide, uniform standards on what conservators can do, including standards for fees, managing assets and bonding of conservators.

Finally, this bill will establish independent oversight of the entire conservatorship system through a conservatorship ombudsman within the Department of Aging. The ombudsman will be charged with investigating and resolving complaints.

Not all conservators are abusing the system—many are doing a good job. But without these reforms, the conservatorship system and elderly and dependent adults are at the mercy of those who abuse their position.

If you are interested in this legislation, please contact my district office at (916) 324-4676 or assemblymember.jones@assembly.ca.gov.