Unfortunately, it is not unusual these days to hear of guardians who do not act in the financial best interests of those they care for. But even some public guardians, who are charged with the administration of affairs for the mentally or physically incompetent, are being accused of mismanagement of the funds of their wards.
In an ongoing case in Davidson County, Tennessee, which includes Nashville, the public guardian has been accused of such acts as double-billing clients and billing for over 24 hours in one day. She is also being questioned about charging legal fees of $200-225 per hour for performing “nonlegal” tasks for her wards, such as shopping trips and clearing possessions out of their homes. The guardian was appointed to her position in 2008, and has since billed over $1.8 million in fees.
She has defended her practices, especially that of billing in a minimum 6 minute, or one-tenth of an hour, increments, as common in the practice of law. And, while that may be true of some lawyers in private practice, other public guardians and legal fee experts note that they do not have minimum time charges, charging for the exact amount of time they work on the case. This investigation has revealed 13,290 charges of 6 minutes during her tenure as public guardian, adding up to fees of over $270,000.
While the wards she represents have no control over the fees or what she says she did to earn them, her actions and fees are subject to the approval of the county probate judge. So far, he has said that he has found no discrepancies in her active cases, but he will not assign any new cases to her while the review of her practices is ongoing. He has also stated that his office will be improving its practices for reviewing fees, including taking longer than the current practice of approving fees on the day they are submitted.
The norm should be that guardians and others in charge of those who cannot make decisions for themselves would make responsible decisions in the best interests of their wards. While this public guardian has not been officially charged with any wrongdoing, it brings to light the need for close oversight of public and private guardians to protect the needs of those who cannot protect themselves. Contacting an estate planning attorney before the need for guardians arises may help protect the interests of the incapacitated person.