SACRAMENTO -- A bill inspired by a disabled San Jose man whose court-appointed trustee and team of lawyers nearly gutted his estate with their high fees passed the Senate floor unanimously Monday.

Senate Bill 156, authored by state Sen Jim Beall, D-San Jose, received a 37-0 vote and now moves to the Assembly.

The legislation came about after the Mercury News exposed a little-known feature of probate courts in California that leaves elderly and disabled adults paying for all lawyers' fees when they contest excessive charges billed to their estate.

If SB 156 passes the Assembly and is signed by the governor, it would protect incapacitated adults like Danny Reed, 38, who was charged more than $108,000 for his court-appointed estate manager's four-and-a-half month's work. When he challenged those fees, Reed was then billed twice that amount by lawyers for his trustee.

SB 156 would create a "loser pays" system in cases similar to Reed's: If a dependent adult objects to the conservator's fees and wins the case, then the conservator could be required by a judge to pay his or her own legal fees. Otherwise, those fees would be drawn from the person's estate.


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The bill has been challenged by the state association for professional fiduciaries, but so far their arguments have not won over senators. More resistance is expected in the Assembly, however, where lobbyists and attorney groups are likely to step up their opposition.

Contact Karen de Sá at 408-920-5781.