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When a Family Matter Turns Into a Business

Photo by Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times Reporters Robin Fields, Evelyn Larrubia and Jack Leonard spent three years examining the conservator industry and California's frequent failure to protect vulnerable seniors from those hired to manage their affairs. The reporters invite you to pose questions and share your own experiences on this topic. 

At latimes.com, we will respond to as many comments and questions as possible. Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they've been approved. Here are the full legal terms. 

Comments

JP

This is horrible. I don't understand how someone's life can be given away without their say, or without them even being there. I don't care how old, it should be illegal to have these deals made without at least a physical presence.

Senior Advocate

I came to the LA Times Website today to look for some unrelated info. I saw the headline for this article and decided to read on. I used to work in a nursing home, so I have a 'sweet spot' for seniors and am always interested in related topics. I got to the end of page 1 and then realized this was an 11 page article. It only took a few seconds to determine that I would read on, as each word kept me moving forward in anticipation of what would be revealed.

It was obvious you did a lot of research and understood fully what was going on in this booming industry. I am horrified at what I read, horrified. I had no idea it was this easy to become conservator of an elderly person's estate. I also had no idea it was POSSIBLE w/o the concent, or knowledge in some cases, of the family. OUTRAGEOUS! How can this be possible?!?! It seems absolutely barbaric. How do we protect those people who society already disregard and patronize, so that they can have free will to preserve what they spent AN ENTIRE LIFETIME building? Last time I checked this was AMERICA, what is going on? What happened to free will and our rights? What happened to deciding what happens to your own assets, especially when you are still totally coherent?!? Afterall, you spent every day at a job you hated your entire life, to save those pennies so that someday you could determine what to do with your money and possibly give yourself a better life or at least peace of mind you had security in the bank. Now a conservator comes along and in some cases, absolutely throws your money out! Wasting it on things w/o regard to what you did to save that, they have no respect! It is absolutely sickening. They have no idea how you may have struggled and done without just to have that money. Now they want to fix something in your home which you did without for who knows how long, you obviously didn't need it!!?! How dare they!?!? How dare they spend, spend, spend until it is all spent! HOW DARE THEY take your life work from you. SHAME ON THEM. What do we do to stop this?!

I can only imagine the rage and hurt and absolute dispair one must feel when you have saved for so many years and then to have someone come along and squander your pennies away w/o regard to your diligence. It makes my stomach turn just thinking it. These conservators dare take from those who have chosen to save what they can?! Outrageous! What do we do now?

MT

I am so upset after reading this article that I want to cry. I just don't understand how people can be so disgustingly greedy and cruel. And who are these judges? Why do they seem to consistently rule in favor of these horrible conservators despite overwhelming evidence that they are mistreating their clients? I simply don't understand it. Is anything being done to investigate this?

Anne Hurley

This is horrible! I'm a middle-aged widow, no children. What can we boomers do now to protect ourselves?

Michael Bragg

This story is very frightening. It seems to me there is one thread through the story and that is the complicity of judges who don't do anything to help these poor people. Cases done in minutes, no investigations, why is this?

Paul

My family is currently going through a similar situation with my aunt. It is absolutely deplorable that the system designed to protect our elderly contributes to their demise. Our seniors have living trusts and wills... but what for? Even in the medical state of dementia a court appointed conservator and attorney working together changed my aunts wishes and living trust. HOW DO I PROTECT MY PARENTS FROM THE SAME SCAM AND FROM UNSCRUPULOUS FAMILY MEMEBERS?? Please advise.

advocate

You have made an excellent start with a complex subject. I suggest the following related topics:
1. The habit of most judges of giving great and undue deference to the claims/statements of professional conservators and attorneys appointed by the court to represent conservatees.
2. The tactic used by some successful professional conservators who have retained most of the experienced attorneys practising in the probate court as counsel in one or more of the professional's conservatorship/guardianship/estate cases. A conservatee's family member who wants to challenge such a professional conservator will be unable to use any of those experienced attorneys to represent him, due to conflict of interest rules.

Gary Robinson

They are BLOODSUCKERS who need to put under control by the court...UNBELIEVEBLE...

AH

This can happen to the best of families, and did happen to my grandfather.

My grandfather's children (my mother and uncle), as well as his wife (my grandmother) had all passed on. I am the oldest grandchild, but lived some 20 miles away from his home in Whittier.

My grandfather was in the hospital and upon release needed to convalesce. The doctor recommended a "board and care" in a woman's home, so I agreed.

Very soon after he began staying with her, his demeanor changed. He was sullen, angry, would not speak with me. Shortly thereafter a neighbor visited him and he disclosed to her that the woman caring for him had had him "sign some papers" (that turned out to be legal docs to appoint her conservator). Also, the woman had driven him to the bank and withdrawn $1000 without disclosing this to me, telling him she needed the money to pay his bills. (I had been paying all his bills.) The woman also "bragged" that her beautiful home had been "given" to her by a previous "client."

Long story short, it took an attorney, a court order, the sheriff and his friends to get him out of there.

I brought him to my home and within a few days he was his normal self. (Turns out she had been drugging him.)

I then put him into a reputable board and care near my home and he lived happily for some 8 more years.

WARNING: There are predators targeting elderly with assets. These are vicious, self-serving, lying con artists.

Beware & Take Care!

Sally Blaine

Is no one safe? Yes, those of us with limited incomes and few assets. We are not raw meat for these so called "conservators". This is nothing short of criminal behavior and is a mirror image of other big money scandals like Enron. I have been a Senior peer counselor, seeing primarily low income seniors, and in my time as a Grand Juror investigating Santa Barbara county offices, I had occasion to review the work done by the Public Guardian's office. I was pleased to see the quality and integrity of record keeping and real caring shown by the employees. As a senior peer counselor I was considered a mandated reporter of any perceived abuse and our group had a good working relationship with an individual from the District Attorney's office who followed up with their own inquiries.
I am disturbed beyond words to read of these criminal abuses, and saddened that there are so many individuals with no social conscience and armed only with their greed.

I commend the authors for this article, and the Times for publishing it. I make myself available for any further action to eliminate these predators.
Sincerely, Sally Blaine

ann scott

Being a "boomer" and retired lawyer, I have never seen nor heard of such egregious abuse of fiduciary duties nor judical responsibilties. If I lived in California and even suspected I was beginning to have physical difficulties or memory lapses, I would commit suicide before I endured such treatment. The entire California judiciary and legislature should all resign in disgrace out of sheer embarassment at their failure to prtoect the elderly from voracious sharks.

Mauricio Aranda

It's amazing that this happening. The judges that allow this to happen should leave the bench. They are getting paid well to do their jobs. Not doing so is inexcusable. These people who abuse the elderly, and that is what they are doing, should go straight to jail and lose all their assets. We as a society need to take responsibility to see that we take care of all those who need our help. We have more protection for animals than we do for people.

Mitch Mauldin

What is happening here is nothing new. If you want to read some REALLY GOOD articles about fiduciary abuse, go to www.phoenixnewtimes.com and search the archives for articles by Paul Rubin.

My recently deceased Aunt had the misfortune of becoming a ward of the court in Arizona. Of course, no one bothered to find any REAL family members. They were satisfied with the word of a public servant who had 2 million good reasons to not want any blood relatives to know about anything. After this guardianship was granted, the public fiduciary took control over my Aunt's life. She had 24/7 LPN care, to the tune of around $80K (for one nurse) per year. Of course, they remodeled her home (using their 'cronies' instead of licensed contractors), threw out everything and bought new. I could go on and on with the horror stories about this.

The family fought long & hard, and I'm glad we did.

To the families who are now in this awful position, give them hell, and watch every move they make. The court will not protect you, you have to do this yourselves. Also another heads up, the fiduciary and caregivers DO NOT WANT YOU to be involved with your elders. They want you to go away and will make every effort to keep you away. (Including making up stories that you 'upset' the ward. The only people you are upsetting are the ones who are robbing your elders blind).

Be sure you go over every accounting with a fine tooth comb. You'd be surprised the things you will find. Best of luck.

Wendy Hughes

My father, who died in 1988, was an attorney in Los Angeles; he had a civil litigation practice, mostly bankruptcy and family law.
Toward the end of his life, his interest turned to conservatorships. He had clients whose lives were being terrorized by conservators. He explained to me that even at that time, conservatorships were gained by people unrelated to the elderly conservatee, that there is no protection, and that it was difficult to reverse. Ironically, he had one client who preferred to have a conservator. She was in her 90s and pretty helpless. She was in a retirement home she liked, but realized it was risky to have anyone at the home be her conservator, and she consulted with my father to find a trustworthy person. Otherwise, his practice was devoted to helping people whose golden years were turning into nightmares similar to what has been described in Part One of this article.

I will be interested to learn if there is any guidance about amending the conservatorship process. Of course, it is entirely possible that ethical conservators help people. I would like to nominate a conservator, should one become necessary, with a back-up in case that one is unavailable.

E.C. Lapping

It seems like this article should be forwarded to the IRS ... there are IRS rules governing below-market sales of homes between family members. Melody Scott had a clear conflict of interest in selling Helen Jones' property (in addition to gouging Ms. Jones for upgrades prior to the sale). Melody Scott may not be a family member, but she was SUPPOSED to be acting in the best interest of her client and I'm certain the IRS can make a case. It seems likely one so greedy as to leech assets from an old lady would have no problem omitting a few details on her tax return. It would be poetic justice to have the IRS strip Ms. Scott of her ill-gotten gains.

That said, who do I start harrassing (senators, governors, etc.) to ensure that laws are put in place to protect my parents, and me for that matter against these parasites? I know there are instances where individuals actually need the services of conservators but why can't there be limits on fees charged for services and WHY can't there a protective services spokesperson for EVERYONE who is subject to conservatorship?

bill willmann

Your recent series
"GUARDIANS FOR PROFIT
When a Family Matter Turns Into a Business"
Indicates the local or US court system with judges and attorneys, is kind of a lawful Mafia-sideline-business here in California, or is, what has been written valid for the US in general? I would consider moving out of state or the US, if necessary.

I am 80 years old, well to do, because I worked hard an honest way to safe a little fortune for retirement.
The thought some judge and attorney is entitled by US LAW to determine over my accounts for their own criminal interests and rob me of my freedom, is kind of nerve shattering.
What is your advise to avoid this kind of a situation?
and thank you for this most interesting, but devastating, eye opening article. Bill Willman, redondo beach

valerie woodard

Why isn't the district attorney charging these people with embezelment and elder abuse? Please print the names of the judges involved. It is through their unprofessionalism and disregard for justice that this has been able to become such an easy crime.

Carleen Warrack

My elderly aunt was declared incompetent by the Cochise County Arizona court. The family was never
contacted prior to this court action. After she was declared
incompetent, the court appointed attorney crafted her
a new will. The head of the Area Agency on Agency
was named the personal representative, and the
beneficiary to over a million dollars. The charge
for this new will was thousands of dollars.

The Public Fiduciary said the family was disruptive and demanded the family give 48 hour notice before
visiting. Fiduciary spent over $50K to remodel a
700 sq. ft. mining shack, plus over $6,000. for window
coverings. They spent $2,000. on a sleigh bed that
disappeared by the time the family visited for the
second visit. No one had a clue where it went.
The court would rubber stamp the accountings which
were always late until the family demanded an accurate
accounting.

People working in these offices have full access to
the old peoples homes and there is not even a back-
round check .
Over 30 animals were disposed of. The court allowed
one of them to have an autopsy.
The bottom line is, if you have elderly relatives,
keep your eye on them, and do not allow the agencies
to take over.
They are only in it for the lucrative business that
it is.

Ella Ekwall

My Aunt who lived in the State of Az. became a ward of the Court. We had no access to her, everything was rigged to the Fiduciary and the full time nurse taking care of her. They had a will made up with thier attorneys. These people took total control of her life and finances. We were not allowed any acess to her or allowed any kind of visitation. The woman who got the inheritance said she was a relative, however she was not and never had to prove anything. this group of rogues was very unscroupulous. We fought long and hard. We hope other people do not have to go through all of this kind of thing. They are like vultures looking for innocent prey. Ella Ekwall

Abby

My friend, "Mr. Q", became the emotional victim of his bank, his former co-worker, and the social service agent assigned to protect him. These three entities operated conjointly --each in their own interests, but benefiting each other mutually, causing him great sadness in his final year of life. The bank employee churned his accounts to enhance her employee record and the bank's branch performance record for adding accounts. When Mr. Q. complained and became suspicious they might slso be siphoning off his money, the bank cut off his access to his funds and called in the social service agency on the pretext of elder financial abuse. The social service agency had just received a sizeable ($%00,000) grant to investigate elder abuse and hoped to charge one of Mr.Q's professional friends with elder financial abuse, garnering headlines for the agency. The co-worker, who was department chair for Mr.Q's former employer, had recently learned that Mr.Q was not leaving half his estate to the college department as the department chair had expected. Angry, he had sought to thwart Mr.Q's efforts to update his trust. Now, he joined with the bank and the social services agency, seeking to take over Mr.Q's assets. He declared to Mr. Q that he was going to liquidate his assets and invest the cash in the stock market. Mr. Q was angry and made it clear that he did not want this. To Mr. Q's friends, the co-worker declared he was going to have himself declared conservator, and put Mr.Q in a home.

No longer trusting his former co-worker, Mr. Q. sought to remove the co-worker as executor. The social services agent6 and the co-worker became aggressive adversaries to Mr.Q's intentions.

What's the moral? People have motives, and they lose sight of their proper mission when their own intentions are thwarted. The bank employee wanted to cover her account-churning activity. The social service agency wanted "financial elder abuse" headlines. The department chair co-worker wanted to be able to play in the stock market with Mr.Q's money (with no recourse if he lost it all), and to punish Mr.Q for not bequeathing to the college department what he told Mr.Q. to do. Ultimately, Mr.Q's sister saw all these people's activities working to her advantage and managed to take a bigger chunk of his estate for herself than Mr.Q had bequeathed to her.

Mimy Wonder

It seems most money went to these lawyers on both sides. Why don't we discuss their guilt? Surely these lawyers know what's going on. Don't these lawyers feel any shame to make money off these vulnerable old people?

These lawyers are as guilty as the conservators they work with. We should not let these lawyers off the hook.

Paula

My mother is 84 years old (i believe she has alzhiemers or dementia), she has a live-in care taker who has taken her home away from her and also sold a business they started together for approx. 258,000.00 which dissapeared and has now isolated her from her family and friends - this caretaker also had my mom sign a deed illegally giving him my house (it took an attorney and 1 year later to clean up that mess he claimed he gave me $40,000.00 which he did not and was proven)- so now he won't let me see or talk to her unless i pay him $40,000.00 it has been 3 years (i don't have $40,000.00 to give him) - this is Extortion i have call Adult Protective Services twice now and they have not done anything about this - life is short and i would love to see my mom and spend some time with her - who else can i call?

Mitch Mauldin

With regard to the IRS making a case out of impropriety in guardianship cases, forget it.

In the case with my deceased Aunt, wages that were paid for LPN care, gardner, housekeeper, cook, etc. (oh yes, she had a FULL staff), no 1099's or W-2's were ever filed.

The judge in the case even suggested that this not be brought 'to light'.

Sue McDonald

This is absolutely mindboggling! I find it amazing that this sort of thing is allowed to happen. There has to be a way that we, as citizens, can get this situation corrected. This is, to my mind, nothing short of criminal behavior and I am amazed that the courts allow this to happen. I think I definitely do not want to become elderly in this society.

Roger

WHERE is the "Terminator" when you really need him?
This is the perfect example of what our governor should be addressing.

Like a majority of Californias, I am thorougly disgusted by the findings of the LA Times (Excellent Job btw!).

If ANYONE trie do that that to my family, I would rather spend 10 years in prison for murder, than allow them to take over those things that my family spent a lifetime to attain.

May those who have done this, rot in hell.
-Roger

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