This weekend the Mercury News published an excellent story that exposed abuses by Santa Clara County court-appointed officials who take advantage of elderly and incapacitated adults whose finances have been placed under control of the county.
Investigative reporter Karen de Sá found that some court-appointed personal and estate managers charge expensive and questionable fees, and judges often sign off with little scrutiny. These finance managers basically drew down their clients’ accounts until little to no money was left in the trust funds and their clients were forced to depend on government assistance. In one case, a Belmont dementia patient was charged $1,062 to help celebrate her birthday.
There is also the story of Danny Reed, who not only has some of the worst luck in the world—he was reportedly hit by a car on two separate occasions, leaving him disabled—but also found himself the victim of trustee Thomas Thorpe, who charged Reed more than $100,000 in fees to manage his estate. When Reed disputed the fees and filed a lawsuit, Thorpe then charged him more than double that amount in legal fees—a loophole in the system allows estate managers to bill their clients for defending such charges.
“In theory, they’re looking at a person’s estate and wondering: ‘How much can I make here before they pass away?’” Denis O’Neal, a former deputy Santa Clara County counsel, told the Merc. “Their goal is to tap into that money.”
The article goes on to say abuses like these are “seldom challenged” and have been “routinely approved for years.”
In other counties, bills like the $1,062 birthday bill would be rejected. But Santa Clara County has looser rules due in addition to an “overly cozy” community of private estate managers and watchdogs who lack experience.
Another article in the series reported that one of these court-appointed estate managers quit last year after court officials discovered that he hired a former priest for $50 an hour to take care of a traumatized young man who had been molested for decades by clergy.