Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What Has Changed Since 2001?

Paper: Houston Chronicle
Date: FRI 04/20/2001

The buck stops in probate court?

By THOM MARSHALL

While there is a widely held belief that the more money you have the better you can expect to be treated in a courtroom, there is one area of the law that seems to turn that notion upside down.

In probate court cases, where judges appoint lawyers to serve as guardians of people who are found to be incapable of taking care of themselves or their business matters, the more money a person has the greater the risk of injustice, said local lawyer David Wukoson. And nowhere is that more true than in our local system, he said.

Wukoson: "You do not want to live in Harris County if you have money and become incapacitated."

At the behest of client and longtime friend J. Michael Epstein, who is a local businessman and president of RMS Lighting, Wukoson organized a team of lawyers that acquired and analyzed a tall stack of probate court records regarding judicial appointments and the fees paid to appointed probate lawyers.

The goal of Epstein and his legal team is to demonstrate to lawmakers in Austin that probate court reform is needed. Epstein spent tens of thousands of dollars in his reform efforts. What sparked him to take up the gauntlet and work to get probate laws improved was his mother's experience.

Going into probate she had an annual income of about $120,000, which should have been plenty to provide for her care but almost all her assets have been liquidated in order to pay the fees charged by the attorney appointed to serve as her guardian.

The Findings:

●Courts do not distribute appointments to attorneys outside of a very close-knit group of attorneys

●The practice allows former probate judges to serve as visiting probate judges in some cases and also to practice as appointed attorneys in other probate cases in the same courthouse

●Unreasonably high fees - Texas probate code currently says the guardian of an estate "is entitled to a fee of 5 percent of the gross income of the ward's estate and 5 percent of all money paid out of the estate." However, the code also allows a judge to "authorize reasonable compensation to a guardian" if the judge decides that 5 percent "is an unreasonably low amount."

●Fewer than one in 10 attorneys who handle guardianships were compensated according to that 5 percent rate

●When anyone makes a legal challenge regarding the handling of a probate estate, the court-appointed guardian benefits by adding more legal fees on his charges to the estate

Full Article and Source:
The buck stops in probate court?

3 comments:

sue said...

I'll tell you what's changed.

The guardianship racket is worse, more out of control and it is nationwide sameful disgrace and a dire global problem.

These crooks have their eyes on YOU and ME!

Ahhh, the GOLDEN YEARS! What a sorry fairy tale, for the ownenr of the gold. In reality, in the real world, the gold that you saved and worked for is taken away via the mobsters associated with probate, who are laying in wait.

Remember: There are only two types of people - PREDATORS and THEIR PREY.

Anonymous said...

What's changged in Texas? I dunno!
What's changed in CT? Nothing. Same old/same old!
What's changed in NY, I can tell you:
Nothing much! The NY Daily News did an investigation, which caused the soon-to-be-retired chief judge to deny any wrongdoing (when NBC interviewed her as she was examining her navel). But she did initiate some changes.
Are they working? Not very well.
The computer access program is a bitch to operate, one string at a time! When you complain that a guardian guru has earned in excess of the annual cap, they can be cut from the list, but the moneys are never recovered.
If the court administrators won't clean up their act, the legislators must do it for them!

Anonymous said...

What has changed?
Nothing - except it is far worse now and I think with the baby boomers reaching retirement age, it will be a nightmare beyond nightmares.