>The Berkeley County Probate Court has joined Charleston County in an effort to limit court-approved fees that can drain the estates of incapacitated elderly persons taken under the court’s protection.
Keith W. Kornahrens, chief judge of the Berkeley County Probate Court, said he is going to go along with the fee restrictions set in place last year by the Charleston County Probate Court.
“I do think guardian fees are too high, even at the reduced rate,” Kornahrens said.
He said he will issue an order this week limiting the fees for lawyers and guardians who handle cases involving incapacitated adults. He said he would adopt the same limitations issued last year by Irvin G. Condon, Charleston’s chief probate judge.
In Dorchester County, Chief Probate Judge Mary Blunt said she will take a look at what Charleston and Berkeley counties have done because “it’s nice when counties get in line.” But, she said, she doesn’t know if there is really any point because her court rarely uses professional guardians, preferring instead to search as hard as necessary to find a relative, friend or someone else to serve in that position. And that service generally is for free.
In addition, she said, the Dorchester County Probate Court has long limited attorneys in incapacitated adult cases to fees of no more than $125 an hour, half of what many normally charge. She said she views it as a form of community service for many of the elderly people who find themselves before the court and have little income or savings.
Condon limited certain fees after The Post and Courier’s Watchdog began a review of court-approved charges made by lawyers, guardians and conservators, and questioned him about the rationale for some of them. Watchdog revealed in a series called “The Price of Living” that the Probate Court, which is supposed to protect vulnerable adults from financial exploitation, approved fees that in many cases drained tens of thousands of dollars a year from some of the adult wards’ savings, leaving them broke within a year or two.
In [one] case, the Probate Court approved a guardian’s $100-per-hour fee for taking his elderly ward a birthday card and flowers.
Shortly after that series ran in November, Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal told the newspaper, “I will be taking action to move this issue forward.”
Rosalyn W. Frierson, director of Court Administration for the Supreme Court, said the high court probably wouldn’t take any unilateral action until after they receive a report from a working group on the guardian issue. That working group has not been named at this time.
Frierson said she did not know if any other probate courts had limited fees other than those in Charleston and Berkeley counties.
Kornahrens’ order will:
–Limit attorneys to no more than $200 an hour. Some had been charging as much as $270.
–Guardians will be placed on a scale of $45 an hour to $75 an hour based on experience and training. Some previously charged as much as $140 an hour.
–Certified professional guardians will be allowed to charge $80 an hour. Some higher or lower charges might be allowed at the court’s discretion.
Full Article & Source:
Probate Court to Limit Fees Paid to Lawyers, Guardians
The Price of Living