VA: Guardianship Case in McLean Illustrates Lack of Regulation for Those Caring for the Elderly

Samuel Drakulich earned a Bronze Star for drawing enemy fire away from a wounded soldier during World War II. He parachuted behind German lines to organize the resistance and went on to serve in the CIA.

But by his mid-80s, a stroke put the war hero in a wheelchair. Jeanne, his wife, had dementia. Their McLean home was in disarray and bills went unpaid.

A dispute between the couple’s children led the courts to decide that the Drakuliches needed a third-party caretaker. A judge appointed a law firm, which is common in Virginia when the elderly and incapacitated have no one else.

Now the Drakuliches and the law firm are fighting over tens of thousands of dollars in billings in a conflict that likely will be decided by the state Supreme Court.

It has raised questions among elder-care advocates and legislators about how a small number of paid guardians — both lawyers and non-lawyer professionals — are treating the aging and how states oversee the process.
In the McLean case, Needham, Mitnick and Pollack (NMP) took control of the Drakuliches’ lives and $700,000 nest egg, as it had done in six similar cases in Fairfax County. It charged wards up to $125 an hour — its normal professional rates — for personal services, such as renewing dog licenses, sorting boxes and preparing instructions on emptying a dryer’s lint trap, court records show.

NMP billed the Drakuliches $6,300 to prepare $1,800 worth of household items for auction, another ward $2,300 to sell a $4,000 car and a third person in their care $4,200 to recover $5,300 worth of investments, a court investigator found.

The Drakulich family calls the bills exorbitant; NMP says they are normal legal bills. The firm says it and other firms can’t afford to become guardians unless they are allowed to charge their regular rates.

Full Article and Source:
Guardianship Case in McLean Illustrates Lack of Regulation for Those Caring for the Elderly

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30 Responses to “VA: Guardianship Case in McLean Illustrates Lack of Regulation for Those Caring for the Elderly”

  1. StandUp Says:

    I am so pleased to see this article. Lawyers are considered officers of the court. When they take advantage of vulnerable people, then that's a clear illustration that they are not above anyone else.

  2. Thelma Says:

    The bills are shameful!Any secretary or paralegal could carry out most of the nonlegal work at greatly reduced rates.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Great investigative reporting!

  4. Donna Says:

    Talk aobut a sense of entitlement!

  5. Hannah Says:

    Do the greedy lawyers actually think we feel sorry for them because "The firm says it and other firms can’t afford to become guardians unless they are allowed to charge their regular rates."Lawyers have no business being guardians in my book.

  6. Alison Says:

    The horrible irony of a vet being denied the freedom he fought for was very well expressed.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    I do not believe it's a small number of guardians taking advantage of the helpless. It's a big number and it's become their way of life.

  8. WI voter Says:

    Big business without regulations and oversight = recipe for DISASTER and many know about this yet they do nothing. Why? Hmmm let's think about following the $ and the votes why would legislators want to chop off the hands with the cash for their campaign war chests? They wouldn't so they string us along like Wisconsin Democrat Sen Herb Kohl (on his way out and what has he done?) at the Senate Aging Committee keep having hearings every few years with their list of speakers – was NASGA on that list? – and determine training will solve the problems.How STUPID do we look Sen Herb Kohl?

  9. Janice Says:

    I will pray for this family and for justice.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    Has anyone looked at the 'images' for guardianship searches?The pictures are deceptive all those happy smiling faces – now where is the billing? Let's have fairness and balance.I agree with WI voter, the GAO acknowledges the criminal activities, yes the word they use is misappropriation of funds for those in the lawyer club but for others the crime is theft.The billings are are on auto pilot automatically approved – how often does the judge say – hey what is this about? Judges trust the agents of the court and that is part of the problem.

  11. Luis Says:

    All the national orgs meet, yak it up with reform suggestions and nothing changes!

  12. jerri Says:

    we the people pay the legislators salaries and generous fringe benefits but we have no voice do we? we the people need to go on strike but hey wait a minute federal and state taxes are taken from us from our paychecks so we are paying for our own hanging not a good plan cause if they had to come and take our money can you imagine the carnage? we the people are in the corner now what do we do about it to get our beloved leaders to legislate to we the people not those who are benefiting and profiting its all about the money and the votes

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Please look at the minutes of the September 6, 2012 meeting of the Virginia Public Guardian and Conservator Advisory Board, which is supposed to oversee the public guardianship process in Virginia. A lawyer member of the Board brought up this case, and said that the Virginia Association of Elder Law Attorneys was going to file an amicus brief TO SUPPORT THE THEIVES IN THIS LAW FIRM! She worried that denying these fees would have a "chilling" effect on lawyers' willingness to serve as guardian! So far as the minutes show, not one of the members of this "oversight" Board disagreed with her!

  14. Sally Says:

    Disputes are not a reason to bring in a third party. Disputes often happen for good reason. Judges have a responsibility to find out what it's all about and rectify it.Bringing in a third party, especially if that involves bringing in lawyers, is putting the ward on a conveyor belt.

  15. Jason Says:

    In this case, the family could and should have been appointed as guardian. Look what a mess the judge caused………

  16. Diane Says:

    These law firms look at the elderly and everyone else as cash cows to line thier pockets. Guardianship should be handled by honest family members. And if there aren't any then the person assigned to take care of them needs to file a weekly report as to expenditures and how the person is faring. Any family member or friend that has a dispute or if the person being cared for has a dispute they should be able to speak to a mediator. This abuse has gone on long enough. This law firm should be forced to pay back eveyr penny they stole.

  17. Diane Says:

    I agree with Thelma. But not only can the paralegal carry out this work, they do! The paralegal, secretary, assistants, they are the ones doing the work and the lawyers are charging these extraordinary fees!

  18. Sheri Abrams Says:

    Regarding the Nov. 30 front-page article “Guardian fees come under scrutiny”:Our firm, Needham Mitnick & Pollack, has served as guardian and conservator in numerous cases over the last 20 years, including many pro bono cases. We take our responsibilities seriously, as evidenced by our reputation in the community. We also take seriously the misleading reporting by The Post in this article. What was not stated in the article is that both an independent court investigator and the judge reviewed all of our bills for seven years of work and concluded that all of our time was reasonable and that the services performed were necessary, appropriate, proper and of value to the wards.To illustrate just one problem with the story, the article’s closing implied that our goal was to deplete the Drakuliches’ estates of all assets. However, when Jeanne Drakulich died in December 2010, there was more than $379,000 in her estate and all four Drakulich children asked our firm to serve as administrator of her estate.By not providing a balanced story, The Post has done a disservice to the valuable work performed by the elder law community. Helen Cohn Needham, Judith A. Mitnick and Susan K. Pollack, Falls ChurchThe writers are the principals of the law firm Needham Mitnick & Pollack.Attribution:“The fairness of guardian fees” December 14, 2012 The Washington Post http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-12-14/opinions/35846458_1_guardian-law-firm-article

  19. Mike Says:

    Sheri, are you saying the fees quoted and reported by the Washington Post were inaccurate?And if so, please set the record straight.

  20. Betty Says:

    Looks like you're trying to do some damage control, Sheri. I believe the Washington Post did a fair article.

  21. Ron Libert Says:

    Law firms have no reason to be Guardians unless it is for profit taking. Guardians should have to submit monthly statements to a Probate Judge. Part of the responsibility for this kind of tragedy and abuse goes to the children for not assuming total care and overseeing of both parents.Ron Libert

  22. Lou Says:

    Right on, anonymous who said, "I do not believe it's a small number of guardians taking advantage of the helpless. It's a big number and it's become their way of life."You're right! It is happening more and more with MANY MANY vulnerable seniors being USED to generate income for predators aka "professional guardians."If you could earn" a $1,000.00 per month (minimum) by HOLDING some little old lady "captive" (through a guardianship) would you do it??? Do you think some people would?

  23. texasprobatevictim Says:

    In Texas, it's not only the greedy lawyers draining the estates, it's fiduciaries, guardianship companies and programs, ad litems, and even the court itself. If you contest a guardianship ruling, a charge, typically $10,000, will be levied to hear your case. One lawyer here even has his wife on the payroll to open the "wards'" mail. But he's still late paying the bills thus incurring penalties and interest. One guardian of a multimillionaire who was kidnapped by the court would not allow her access to her funds to purchase Christmas presents for her friends. They want it all for themselves. Yes, do follow the money.

  24. Anonymous Says:

    In my moms case she had longterm care insurance and the 24/7 care was just $17,000 per year now it is $205,000 per year and the guardian even told me "that was well with in what they can charge".

  25. Anonymous Says:

    Just because the judiciary that 'hired' the law firm OK's the fees does not mean the fees are not excessive. Families are given little information or time to review these fees and the only way to complain is to file a petition. But the decks are stacked against the families of the wards. Litigation is so expensive that the court appointees can pad their bills liberally before litigation becomes cost-effective, and now there are draconian penalties against family members who run up the bills with litigation, the only oversight they have. Furthermore, Sherri Abrams claimed the four children agreed to have her firm 'serve as administrator' to the estate. But did the children have any real choice? Settlement courts can use those draconian penalties to force family members to agree to whatever the court demands.

  26. Anonymous Says:

    The reporter was incorrect when he wrote that the city (DC) regulates the lawyer/guardians more vigorously. There is no oversight and the judges and city leaders ignore complaints filed against the lawyer/guardian. "Exactly how does taking a class prevent these guardians from committing self-serving abuses against their wards? Did the reporter ever bother to interview DC wards and their families who have filed complaints? The piece he wrote seems very thin and doesn't at all dig beneath the surface into the real meat and human drama of the problem here. I'd like to ask that the reporter revisit the matter and this time, approach it more thoroughly. There's a lot there, and the reporter could really do some worthwhile, even award-worthy, reporting on the matter – if he is so inclined."

  27. Anonymous Says:

    NMP is guilty of financial exploitation. NMP is financing their appeal with money from the ward's estate. This is how these crooked attorney/guardian silence the ward and their families by filing frivilous appeals and/or petitions in court. Abuse of appointment, abuse of position!

  28. Sheri Abrams Says:

    Yes the fees quoted and reported by the Washington Post were inaccurate. Most if not all law firms use block billing—meaning for example that when we bill for an hour it probably includes 10 or more tasks that a legal assistant has done on a certain case. What the Post did was pick one of those 10 tasks out of the block bill and say that we billed for an hour's work just for that one task. No, NMP is not using money from a ward's estate to finance their appeal. All money is coming from the firm itself.

  29. Anonymous Says:

    Rules resulting from Sleeth vs Sleeth prohibit block billing.

  30. Sheri Abrams Says:

    Virginia as well as many other States allows block billing.

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