Many have heard of conservatorships in headlines recently but the concept of a conservatorship, or guardianship, dates back to Roman times.
Today, conservatorships are when another person is court-appointed to help someone who cannot take care of themselves. It’s a powerful position. When a conservator is appointed, they gain control over another person’s life –what they eat, who they see, where they live, what medical care they receive —all while handling their money and assets.
As the baby boomer generation ages, conservatorships are becoming more common for one of our most vulnerable demographics: our elderly. And while many conservatorships do help those who need it, our year-long investigation found a system that controls a massive amount of other people’s money – just under $13 billion in California alone — as well as personal freedom, with little oversight from state regulators, opening the door to potential financial, physical and emotional abuse.
‘The Patterns of Control’:
Isolation from family and friends, depletion of estates and a group of the same attorneys, conservators, medical providers and caregivers working together. These are a few of the patterns ABC10 investigative reporter Andie Judson found in some cases in her year-long investigation into California conservatorships including a Sacramento area family business – mother, son, and daughter – who control over a quarter million dollars of other people’s assets combined.
This episode dives deep into an industry that many believe is benefitting its members, rather than the person it’s supposed to care for, typically an elderly person under conservatorship.
You can watch Tuesday, May 25 at 11pm on ABC10’s Late News Tonight.
‘The Old Boys’ Club’:
Conservatorships give control over someone’s life, money and assets to another. And if families aren’t getting along, the probate court usually will appoint a third-party fiduciary to be conservator. It’s a life-changing decision that’s often made quickly; probate courts throughout California are inundated, with judges seeing hundreds of cases in a week, sometimes dozens an hour.
This episode digs into how our probate court system works and narrows in on the happenings of the Sacramento County Probate Court, one that multiple insiders and experts have referred to as a “good old boys’ club” throughout ABC10’s year-long investigation. Many believe it’s a club that’s benefitting its members, particularly through loopholes that some believe are leading to corruption in conservatorships.
You can watch Wednesday, May 26 at 11pm on ABC10’s Late News Tonight.
‘The Fight for Accountability’:
The job title of a fiduciary is broad and powerful. Fiduciaries are trained to manage their client’s wealth, well-being, and assets. It’s also the certification needed to be a conservator.
After abuse was exposed in California conservatorships, the state created the Professional Fiduciary Bureau under the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The PFB was set up to regulate “non-family member professional fiduciaries.”
But the state entity that was created to provide oversight and protect clients has never – once – issued a citation for abuse. Abuse that could be going under the radar, as the bureau only has one investigator to look into the hundreds of detailed complaints they receive.
Our investigation shines a light on the failure of a bureau that was set up to ensure the protection of fiduciary clients, many who are society’s most vulnerable.
You can watch Thursday, May 27 at 11pm on ABC10’s Late News Tonight.
‘Set Up for Failure’:
ABC10 investigative reporter Andie Judson’s year-long investigation found an industry with little oversight from state regulators opening the door to potential abuse. So, what’s being done to regulate the $13 billion conservatorship industry in California? This episode examines legislation that’s currently being debated within our state capitol to answer the question of how to prevent conservatorship abuse.
You can watch Friday, May 28 at 11pm on ABC10’s Late News Tonight.
Episode One: ‘Civil Death’
During the 1950s, Linda Duncan was a waitress at the southern California restaurant staple, “Donna’s House of Pancakes.”
When one of their regulars, Calvin Duncan, came for breakfast, he was hard to miss.
“My dad lived in the era of Rat-Pack. He was the same age as Frank Sinatra, so he would dress like that. He would have his little pocket square and his hat at a tilt, with his suit and tie,” said Saal. “[My mom] said she could see him coming in [his] really beautiful pink Cadillac.”
Saal said her mother was “a cute young thing” who had been an extra in a few Hollywood films. Her father quickly took a liking to her.
“His story is that she followed him home to the ranch and never left,” said Saal. “It was a classic love story.”
This 250-acre ranch in Malibu was where Linda and Calvin raised their three children. Saal describes her childhood as idyllic, saying she now orientates herself around the beach, much like her mother did.
But as Calvin was 30 years older than his wife, Saal said he was aware of the reality his wife would likely live longer than he would.
“My dad really set her up in her retirement so that she would have everything she needed,” Saal said.
That’s why, after years of marriage, the couple decided to move from the ranch to a home in Camarillo.
“[It was] designed for somebody to age very gracefully. It was all one level,” Saal said. “She spent so many years working on the garden… We always assumed mom and dad would spend their last years in this beautiful view house – and my dad did.”
Twenty years after her husband passed, Linda no longer lives near the ocean, tends to her garden, or even spends much time outside.
Linda has been placed in an assisted living facility in Auburn, hundreds of miles from the home her and her husband shared.
Saal said she’s there against her wishes.
“I think she’s unhappy in that situation and she much would prefer to be in her own home,” said Saal.
ABC10 joined Saal on her visit with her mother on August 13, 2020, so we could hear directly from Linda.
Linda described her own situation as tragic and sad, as well as recollecting past memories of the ranch.
“I had the most wonderful life, and to be shut down here like this… it’s just kind of a sad situation,” Linda said. “It wouldn’t be so bad if I could come out. It’s a tragedy, I think.”
Linda also said she believed she was going to “deteriorate in here.”
The reason Linda cannot return home is because she’s under a conservatorship.
A conservatorship is when another person is appointed by a judge to have legal authority over someone’s life. While there are different types of conservatorships, depending on the conservatee–such as an LPS conservatorship for mental health–a majority of conservatorships are put in place for aging adults suffering from dementia or other health issues that prevent them from taking care of themselves.
But conservatorships aren’t new.
“The idea of a conservatorship, or guardianship as it’s called in most states (besides California), goes way back into Roman times,” said Linda Kincaid, Co-Founder of the Coalition of Elder & Disability Rights, an organization focused on California conservatorships. “It’s the idea that someone gets appointed to help take care of a person that for, whatever reason, cannot care for themselves.”
The position of a conservator is powerful.
“This process is going to take away your mom’s rights,” Kincaid said. “If you become her conservator, now your mom enters into what some people call, ‘civil death.’”
While family members can be appointed conservators, if a court appoints a third-party conservator it will be a fiduciary. A fiduciary is the profession of handling other people’s money and assets. It’s also the specific certification needed to become a third-party conservator.
According to the Professional Fiduciary Bureau, this industry manages just under $13 billion of other people’s assets in California alone, and this number may be increasing. Conservatorships could be on the rise as we’re entering the “silver tsunami,” a term describing the growing baby boomer generation.
By 2025, the number of Americans aged 65 and older will increase by 60 percent, the United States Census Bureau reports.
By 2035, in California alone, there will be more 65-year-olds than 18-year-olds, the California Department of Finance projects.
The legal responsibilities that come with aging are extremely familiar to Michael Hackard.
As an attorney, Hackard got his start in land-use law. But when trust issues came up in his own family, he felt helpless and confused despite having an extensive legal background.
That’s why he changed specialties to trust and estate law, and after 40 years, he’s a trusted expert in this field. But it’s not just his clients that he wants to help. Hackard posts weekly YouTube tutorial videos and wrote the book, The Wolf at the Door: Undue Influence and Elder Financial Abuse. These efforts are aimed at helping anyone navigating the confusing world of conservatorships and abuse.
“There are two types of conservatorships,” Hackard explained.
A conservatorship of a person means someone oversees all personal aspects of your life. Everything from what you eat, where you live, and your medical care to who you’re able to see.
“That is different than the conservatorship of finance, or financing,” said Hackard.
The other type of conservatorship is of an estate, where another person has full power over all your financial affairs and assets.
“Takes over everything that you own, and all the rights you have to ownership,” said Hackard.
And these two types of conservatorships aren’t exclusive.
“They’re often paired together. In my view, when they are paired together is when you start seeing issues… the conservatee often becomes invisible because it’s as though they’re in their own prison in a way because the conservator or a person controls all access to them.”
It’s a sentiment Julie Doherty said she feels.
Every Saturday, Julie drives two hours from Marin County to Sacramento, then two hours back. It’s four hours of driving for 30 minutes of visitation with her mother.
Her visits are at the home where she grew up. At the time of our investigation of this story, due to COVID-19, Julie had to remain outside, only permitted to see her mother through a window. COVID also required that what were initially three-hour visits to be limited to half an hour.
Doherty isn’t allowed to stay five minutes past visitation time or arrive early.
“We’re not allowed to drop in, ever,” said Doherty. “There was no flexibility whatsoever. We also weren’t allowed to bring any friends with us or any food or drink.”
Rules she must follow, even on special days like her mother’s birthday.
“This shouldn’t be allowed to happen to anyone,” said Doherty. “People who are incarcerated get more visitation time than my mother does.”
But this limited access wasn’t always in place, in fact Doherty used to take care of her mother – Carole Anne Elzey. But a $300,000 loan changed everything.
“I was purchasing a condominium up in Marin County,” explained Doherty. “And my mother agreed to provide an equity loan against her home in order for me to obtain my mortgage.”
The loan sparked disagreements between Doherty and some of her four other siblings, resulting in their mother being placed under the conservatorship of fiduciary Carolyn M. Young.
It’s something Doherty is adamantly opposed to.
“I will never not be upset that we have this third-party conservator,” said Doherty.
But the family is divided.
ABC10 reached out to each sibling to get their side.
Doherty’s sister, Alison Schofield declined our request for an on-camera interview but sent us multiple emails advocating for Young’s placement as conservator and questioning Julie’s motives, saying by hiring Young they “chose to protect our mother and secure a fiduciary.”
Alison told us, as well as court documents reveal, that issues around visitation were occurring before the conservatorship was in place. She also said, “Julie Doherty is 100-percent the reason our family has Carolyn M Young fiduciary overseeing our mother’s estate.”
Their brother, James Doherty, never responded to ABC10. However, he appears to be in favor of the conservatorship according to court documents he filed objecting to Julie as conservator and backing the appointment of Young.
Their other sister, Michelle Vinall, responded in an email saying she has formed cynical opinions of the conservatorship of their mother and that she agrees with Julie that, “Young and co., including all those interconnected from the judicial system, and attorneys, down to the concierge doctors and nurses” are all feeding from a “parasitic trough that will deplete enough assets that should have been enough for three lifetimes.”
Despite ABC10’s numerous requests over the course of months, Carolyn Young would not grant us an interview. But she did answer some of our questions in writing.
She provided us with a list of legal actions taken in Elzey’s case. She also provided the following statement to us:
“Since the California Labor Laws changed in 2014, 24/7 care in a client’s home costs $25,000 per month, and most trusts cannot sustain that expense. This rate computes to $300,000 per year.
In addition to direct care, a review of public records (included in the many public documents I have provided to you) indicate the following legal actions. With the exception of the first and second accountings, which are required by law, none of these actions were initiated by me.”
The fifth sibling, we never received a response from.
As for what their mother, Elzey, thought of the conservatorship herself, it’s shown in the court investigator’s report provided to us by Doherty. The report says that after interviewing Carole, they determined that she was “opposed to the appointment of the proposed conservator.”
“I started battling this fight just to be able to see my mom,” said Doherty. “I just want to be able to see my mom.”
Issues between family members is one of the oldest predicaments there is, even being addressed in the Bible, Luke 12:13:
“Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’”
“Jesus replied, ‘Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?’”
And over 2,000 years later, sibling disagreements are still an issue. But today, families go to probate court for help.
“Where it gets sticky is suppose that your mom needs help and you and your siblings are at war with each other which, unfortunately, is so often the case,” said Kincaid. “The court isn’t going to appoint one sibling or the other to have control over mom when there are just these huge objections flying back and forth.”
So, the court appoints a professional fiduciary to serve as conservator.
“Someone who is supposed to put the interest of the conservatee above their own interest,” Hackard explained.
Acting in the “best interest” of the conservatee is a term used repeatedly in Probate Code. But the interpretation of “best interest” is in the hands of the conservator, and some advocates believe it can make for a slippery slope.
For instance, the visitation schedule for Doherty and her siblings is what’s best for their mother, according to the medical doctor hired by the conservator, Young.
But Julie finds it cruel.
“I don’t want visitation. Visitation implies just that, a structured date and time – a beginning, middle and end. I want unfettered access to my mother. I want to spend the night. I want to be able to hold her hand,” said Doherty. “I want to be able to sit next to her and reassure her everything is okay, just like most families do with their loved ones.”
Court documents reveal disputes about visitation were occurring before the conservatorship was in place. In an ex parte petition for order to “allow temporary conservator to employ independent caregivers for conservatee and terminate Julie Doherty as caregiver,” filed by attorney Todd Robie, who represented Julie’s brother James, it stated, “during the period Julie Doherty has been providing care, Julie Doherty has impended visitation of the conservatee’s other children with the conservatee. The Declaration of Carolyn M. Young cites specific examples of Julie Doherty’s interference with other children’s visitations.”
No matter how you look at it, you can see that time with their mother is being impacted. It’s time that may be running out. Elzey is 87 and has multiple chronic conditions, including dementia. In February 2021, she was admitted to hospice care.
“She’s had rapid decline… in the last few weeks she has become non-verbal,” Julie said during an interview in February. “I’m never going to agree with Carolyn Young’s placement as conservator.”
But once a conservatorship is appointed, it can be very difficult to terminate. Part of it is because of the cost.
“When and if I take on a conservator, that conservator is not using his or her own money… they’re using the conservatee’s money to defend,” said Hackard.
The Probate Code names a procedure to file a petition to terminate a conservatorship. But Kincaid says you’ll most likely be opposed by the conservator.
When we asked why a conservator gets a say when they’re supposed to be a third-party, Kincaid put it simply: money.
“Because it pays so well. Conservatorship is about money,” said Kincaid. “It’s about billable hours and the more they can keep you coming into court.”
When fighting a conservatorship, multiple parties come before a judge. Kincaid said this can include the conservator, the conservator’s attorney, the conservatee’s court-appointed attorney, a guardian ad litem as well as experts. All of these parties can come before a judge to decide what’s best for the conservatee and can oppose the termination of a conservatorship.
“They all get paid from mom’s estate,” said Kincaid.
According to Elzey’s conservatorship accountings filed through the court, between November 2017 and January 2020, the Sacramento County probate court approved over $265,000 in fiduciary and legal fees for Young, Young’s attorney and the conservatee’s court-appointed attorney. This included a nine-day trial where Young and her attorney defended the conservatorship, with Young prevailing.
This sum doesn’t include some siblings’ attorney fees that were later paid by the estate.
Between court fees, the price of in-home caregiving and the cost of living, accountings show the estate has a total disbursement and has been charged over $1.5 million in the last four years since the conservatorship began. The second accounting shows just under $1.3 million has been transferred from Elzey’s trust.
Young responded in-part to our question about these costs saying, “Since the California Labor Laws changed in 2011, 24/7 care in a client’s home costs $25,000 per month, and most trusts cannot sustain that expense. This rate computes to $300,000 per year.”
She also provided ABC10 with a list of nine legal actions and said, “with the exception of the first and second accountings, which are required by law, none of these actions were initiated by me.”
The following is the full list of legal actions Young included in her response:
“Objections filed to the Conservatorship resulting in two mediations at Weintraub”
“Petition filed by daughter Julie to be the Conservator”
“Eleven motions filed by Julie opposing my actions… all denied”
“Appeal filed in Court of Appeals… eventually withdrawn”
“Mediation at Court of Appeal”
“Production of documents and many depositions by Julie’s attorney”
“A nine day trial heard by Superior Court Judge. Ruling in favor of me.”
“Objections filed to CMY accounting, resulted in several hearings, mediation in Superior Court Judge’s chambers, set for two day trial resulting in preparation of trial briefs; an additional two days in Superior Court with a judge mediating the issues; eventually taking two years for accountings to be approved”
Julie Doherty said the worst part, to her, isn’t her “mother losing her assets” but that her “mother has lost her family.”
“I’ve been robbed of time with my mom,” Doherty said.
But even if you think your family’s wishes are set via your trust and will, Saal – who we first introduced you to back at the beginning of the story – says to think twice.
Saal said herself and some members of her family discovered all her mother’s estate planning documents were changed.
We joined Saal’s visit with her mother to hear directly from her on August 13, 2020. That was two days before she was evaluated by a doctor, first on August 15, 2020 and again on August 21, 2020. According to the doctor’s evaluation provided to ABC10 by Saal, he declared her incapacitated saying she has “severe cognitive decline” and that she doesn’t show “knowledge that she’s being conserved.”
But according to court records, Linda’s cognitive slip happened over the last year, between September 4, 2019 when estate planning documents were changed and September 9, 2020, the day the doctor’s report was released following his evaluations in August.
This means in September 2019, a year before being declared incapacitated, Linda signed estate planning documents appointing Carolyn Young and her son, Zach Young, to serve as trustee and potential conservator of the estate, if warranted.
“A new will was created, our family trust was changed and a new trust was created,” said Saal. “There were new trustees put in place of mom’s trust and she had a new power of attorney for healthcare and a new power of attorney for finances.”
Linda’s medical evaluation said her legal counsel, attorney Todd Robie, asserted she had “relevant civil capacities to create these estate plans.”
“All of this was very surprising to our family because for the past 22 years, my mom has had the same estate planning documents,” said Saal. “We just assumed that it would be that way and left alone the way that my mom and dad had set it up and intended it to be.”
When we asked Young about changing client trusts, she noted how this must be done through a court petition and order, giving beneficiaries the ability to object and saying changing the trust is “extremely rare.”
When we asked Hackard about changing trusts, he said it can be common.
“They petition the court for the change and it’s fairly common. Most of the time it might be more benign, that there’s some reason to do it. Maybe there’s a tax reason. But it can also be terrible,” said Hackard. “It can be cutting out other beneficiaries. And it’s [something that can be] a projection of power. ‘I am the conservator. I can do this.’”
Conservatorships were created to assist and protect our most vulnerable population: our elderly. And many of them do. But our year-long investigation found that California’s multi-billion dollar conservatorship industry is powerful, with little oversight from state regulators, opening the door to potential abuse.
Episode Two: ‘The Patterns of Control’
“Her and my dad made this trust, and my mother thought it was set,” said Jamie Lamborn. “It was going to be okay.”
Lamborn’s mother passed away in August 2000, leaving behind her stepfather, Clarence Johnson, who went by the nickname “Jack.” Lamborn regarded Jack as her father.
“I was very close with my mom and dad… both of them. [In the timeframe] of three years, I counted two nights I believe I stopped missing by,” said Lamborn. “[Jack] was always my rescuer.”
But when Jack’s mental and physical abilities started declining, as trustee, Jamie knew it was time for her to become his rescuer.
“I knew my mother and father trusted me to take care of them and I think that’s one of the reasons why my mother wanted me to be trustee,” said Lamborn.
But Lamborn said she didn’t fully understand the responsibilities of being a trustee. So, she sought legal help and guidance. She said her attorneys immediately began recommending that she hire a fiduciary.
“Every time I was around him it was, ‘Give it to a private fiduciary. They’ll take care of it,’” Lamborn recalled.
Lamborn estimates it was a month after she initially hired attorneys that she decided to abide by their advice and relinquished her role as trustee, as well as granted a conservatorship of her father to a fiduciary they recommended: Carolyn Young.
“They told me when Carolyn Young becomes conservator, she takes care of everything with Jack,” said Lamborn.
It’s a similar story for Catherine.
“My dad’s attorney, Todd Robie, was trying to suggest to my dad maybe they hire this woman, Carolyn Young, to help them with their finances,” said Catherine.
While Catherine’s situation is different, it ended the same way Lamborn’s did, with her parent being placed under a conservatorship in 2013.
Despite her mother passing away in 2016, Catherine is still in litigation. Because of this, she requested we not include her family’s last name.
Catherine said her father appointed one of their caregivers to serve as co-trustee because Catherine lived in another state and the caregivers became like family to her parents.
“I was not living here,” said Catherine. “That was really my dad’s big concern was making sure that my mom’s caregivers wouldn’t leave her.”
The other trustee was their granddaughter, who was age 25, Catherine said. She said her father’s attorney encouraged both trustees to enact a conservatorship.
“The odd thing is this could still take place when my mother was against it – my brother, myself,” said Catherine. “So direct relatives more so. That’s just the court system.”
Catherine said for the four years the conservatorship was in place, Young saw her mother a total of three times.
ABC10 asked Young about Catherine’s claim, she responded in-part saying she could not “speak to this specific case as these matters are confidential,” but generally speaking conservatees are seen once a month by herself or her staff.
Someone can be placed under the conservatorship of a fiduciary for a variety of reasons, including family disagreements. But another common way such conservatorships are instated is through the recommendation of attorneys.
“I think a lot of attorneys will refer over to fiduciaries,” said Hackard. “I do have my favorite fiduciaries. But they’re my favorites because I think they actually look out for the clients.”
But some are concerned about fiduciaries that look out for themselves, and those who work with them, rather than the client.
It’s a pattern we found in documents from the Professional Fiduciary Bureau, including:
Fiduciaries David and Susan Katra in Santa Clara County surrendered their licenses, with the bureau alleging they committed a number of crimes, including serving as general contractors themselves and costing the estate more because the work performed on their clients’ home was poorly done.
Fiduciary Richard Cox in Plumas County purchased shares with funds from client’s trusts in a company he owned.
Fiduciary Sally Cicerone in Orange County paid herself $14,519 and her attorney $28,293.70 from a client’s trust fund after she had been removed.
It’s something Jim Marshall said he saw in the Sacramento County probate court in the 29 years he served as a court investigator.
“The corruption is to frustrate the intent of the trustor, the person who is relying on another to protect them and protect their estate and see that their wishes are upheld during and after their lifetime,” said Marshall. “However, not all fiduciaries are doing that.”
When we asked Marshall if he believed that kind of corruption is happening in the Sacramento County probate court system, he said yes.
“I think that once you amass tens of millions of dollars in your portfolio, it gives you buying power and you can use that to purchase medical services, doctors evaluations and all kinds of things,” said Marshall.
ABC10 began our investigation in 2020 after several people reached out with criticism of Carolyn Young, one of the most well-known and powerful fiduciaries in Northern California. They had similar stories and concerns about her practice, which includes her two children, Zach Young and Lindsay Bowman, who are fiduciaries in their family business.
As our investigation progressed over the course of a year, we learned there are system-wide issues across California.
As we’ve already established with attorneys, one of the patterns we encountered is the same professionals being involved in conservatorship cases over and over… but we also found a pattern of the same medical providers.
Pattern: Same professionals
It’s one of the many patterns found in multiple books including, “Guardianships and the Elderly: The Perfect Crime,” “Guardian Angels, Inc.” and “Guardianship Fraud.”
Changing medical providers is something Richard Calhoun, Co-Founder of the Coalition of Elder & Disability Rights, said is common – and concerning – in conservatorships.
“Most of the time their doctors get changed. Why is it that they’re going to a doctor that has never seen this person before? Why aren’t they going to a family physician when they have a family physician?” said Calhoun. “Those are the questions that really should be being asked.”
Doctors evaluate the elder’s capacity, a key in the conservatorship process as permanent conservatorships aren’t fully granted in court until it’s proven that the elder cannot care for themselves.
“My mother was a remarkable woman. She had a zest for life. She was a fighter and she was amazing,” said Carol Kelly. “She had no fear… she traveled the world on her own.”
After an anonymous call was made to adult protective services saying Mary Jane Mann was at-risk of abuse from one of her daughters, Carol Kelly, she was placed under the temporary conservatorship of Young after Young filed a petition in November of 2006.
“My mother was fully competent. She was driving. She went through the driver’s safety office and went through a long procedure where you have to get your doctor to say it’s okay for you to drive,” said Kelly. “Then take the behind the wheel test. She passed with 100 percent.”
Carol and her sister were at odds–her sister for the conservatorship, and Carol against it.
Records to the case provided by Kelly show Mann underwent three independent evaluations from different doctors between 2007 and 2008, after the petition for conservatorship by Young had been filed.
“A clinical psychologist, a clinical neurologist, her own physician. She was not only average, she was way above for her age. She was functioning completely on her own,” said Kelly. “Young did not want to accept those findings. She would say, ‘Well, we need to have her evaluated by somebody we’ve selected.’”
According to court documents filed in 2008, Mann’s other daughter and Carol’s sister, who was in favor of hiring a fiduciary, wanted another evaluation done, specifically requesting in court documents that it be done by two doctors, one of which we found has worked with Young repeatedly.
Kelly said her mother refused to have another evaluation done in 2008.
“It would be in their best interest if she had dementia,” Kelly said.
Young responded with the following statement:
“There is no basis in fact for Carol Kelly’s “opinion.” I was appointed on this case approximately 17 years ago. Daughter Monica Mann, with Ed Corey as her attorney, petitioned the court for Dr. Schaffer to perform an evaluation of her mental capacity. It is an insult (and slanderous) to infer that this highly respected Psychiatrist would make a determination of incapacity for the financial benefit of CMY Fiduciary Services.”
Medical evaluations that are submitted to probate courts throughout California are crucial to the appointment of a conservatorship. However, some of the medical evaluations ABC10 obtained and reviewed were conducted by doctors with PhDs in neuropsychology, geropsychology and psychotherapy, not medicine.
While these types of doctors are well-trained and educated, Hackard prefers working with medical doctors because of how they conduct evaluations. He provided the following statement:
“Physicians are taught to differentiate between two or more conditions which share similar signs or symptoms. This is called ‘differential diagnosis.’ Physicians will identify this list of possible conditions by the person’s medical history, self-reported symptoms, physical examination findings, and diagnostic testing.
This is very important in the conservatorship setting because dehydration, thyroid, kidney, liver, heart and lung problems, urinary and chest infections, drug toxicity, and strokes can produce dementia-like symptoms but not be dementia. Delirium is usually reversible if the underlying cause is treated. Dementia is not reversible.
Physicians are trained to consider whether an underlying illness, other than dementia, may be causing the patient’s disorganized thinking or altered level of consciousness.
A significant difference between psychologists or PhDs and physicians is that licensed physicians, particularly psychiatrists, are more likely to use the medical model to assess mental health problems. This is, of course, critical is assessing elders because a significant percentage of the elder population have chronic diseases and conditions. Psychologists and PhDs lack the training and licensing to identify chronic illnesses that may be producing dementia like symptoms – symptoms that are reversible if delirium is caused by underlying treatable condition.”
Doctors can also play a role in how often a family gets to see the person who is under a conservatorship.
Much like Doherty, Catherine also had visitation enforced following the recommendation of a medical professional.
For Catherine’s mother, court documents show a nurse, who we found has worked with Young in at least three other cases, evaluated her mother. This evaluation was used to put visitation time in place saying it was in her mother’s best interest.
“They were trying to say that I was presenting a tense environment for my mother,” said Catherine.
In the evaluation, the nurse alleged Catherine was causing her mother to have food depravation, sleep depravation and forced exercise as well as noting “this just seems abusive.”
Catherine’s neighbors who knew the family for over 30 years wrote a letter to the court saying they found the allegations of abuse “unfounded and false,” and that Catherine and her mother’s relationship had always been loving.
But following the evaluation, visitation was enforced.
“An hour. An hour a day,” Catherine said. “I’m having to go to the door to visit my mom and they won’t let me in because it’s after 8 p.m. I’m like, ‘Since when can I not visit my mom?’ And they’re saying, ‘No. You can’t.’ My mother is crying, ‘I want to see my daughter, I want to see my daughter.’ I mean… it was so heartbreaking.”
Catherine wasn’t okay with limited access to her mother.
“And so my last days with my mom were fought in court,” said Catherine.
Isolation is a pattern found in separate studies conducted by the Government Accountability Office and National Center for State Courts. The latter found that some “persons under conservatorship were isolated from their families [and] neglected.”
As co-founder of the organization Coalition of Elder and Disability Rights, Kincaid has reviewed hundreds of conservatorship proceedings throughout California.
“From what I’ve seen the very best way to keep those billable hours running up is to isolate the conservatee,” said Kincaid. “Because if your mom is taken away and you’re not even allowed to see her… you’re going to keep fighting and fighting and fighting with everything you have to your last penny to try to get to see your mom, and to try and protect your mom.”
Specifically, with Young, when we asked her about visitation, she responded with the following statement:
“At all times, the health and safety of my clients are my primary concern. I continue to follow the CDC Guidelines, as well as the recommendations of the doctors, and the orders issued by the court.”
Conservators have the ability to determine whether their conservatee should be moved into an assisted living facility or if they can remain in their homes, given they can afford caregiving.
A pattern we found in documents from the Professional Fiduciary Bureau was multiple fiduciaries hiring people that would benefit from these services themselves, not the client. For example:
Fiduciary Michael Patrick Cunningham hired his future son-in-law as caregiver but wrote into the agreement that the son-in-law would not “pick up the client” if they fell or help in “any medical capacity.” The bureau’s report said hiring his son-in-law was for the benefit of Cunningham’s family, not the client.
Fiduciary Dawn Akel in Sacramento County “did not hire a licensed agency” to provide care but instead “hired her brother and office staff member, both of whom had no previous caregiving/companion training.”
Professional caregivers also benefit from this $13 billion dollar industry.
It’s something Marshall attests to.
“After I finished my stint as a probate court investigator, I opened up care homes and my relationship with Carolyn (Young) was very beneficial to my business growing,” Marshall said. “Carolyn’s [clients] were proportionately 70-percent of the clients there… We had an implied contract that we could work together collaboratively and to the benefit of the individual.”
But Marshall said he saw some concerns arise around certain actions.
“Where it got tricky for me as an employer, was that Carolyn wanted us to have our employees oversee the conversations with a daughter that was allegedly creating problems,” said Marshall. “So, we became a police of sorts.”
ABC10 asked Young about instructing employees to monitor family member visits. Young responded with the following statement:
“In my 35 years as a professional Fiduciary, this has occurred only once, and was done as a result of a court order directing the supervision.”
Pattern: Depletion of Estate
Monitored visitation can lead to another pattern: depletion of estate.
With Catherine, we showed you that fighting the rules put into place for visitation can be expensive – but also visitation, when monitored, can add cost.
“My mother had to pay to see her own children,” said Doherty. “According to Carolyn Young’s letter from four years ago, it stated that everyone’s visits from neighbors and friends would have to be supervised and monitored. And then my mother’s estate would have to pay for that.”
Which also created more isolation, Doherty said.
“So even my own mother’s friends who lived down the street wanted to see her but they didn’t feel like my mother should be charged for seeing her own friends,” said Doherty.
Marshall said when he expressed unease about the stewardship of Carolyn M. Young Fiduciary Services, it was the beginning of the end of his business.
“So, the gloves were off,” Marshall said. “If they brought me in, they could take me out.”
Marshall said Young gave 30 days’ notice, then pulled all her conservatees out of Jim’s homes 10 days before Christmas.
“Everyone had their Christmas presents under the tree,” recalled Marshall. “But to see them shuffling out… [some had] severe dementia. The confusion and the disorientation.”
Marshall described some asking, “Why are we leaving? Why do we have to go?”
When we asked Young about moving her clients from Creative Solutions, Marshall’s business, she responded with the following statement:
“At one time, I had a number of client’s living in Jim Marshall’s Creative Solutions Care Homes. It was brought to my attention that Mr. Marshall was having serious financial issues. With that knowledge, I felt it was necessary, for the safety of my clients, to remove my clients from Jim Marshall’s care. Shortly thereafter, I became aware that Mr. Marshall had filed for bankruptcy. This fact can easily be verified in public records.”
But Marshall said it was the removal of Young’s clients that caused him to close his doors, then file for bankruptcy two weeks later.
“If I had known I would’ve seen the consequences of these people being marched out, I wouldn’t have raised it. I would’ve stayed in line,” said Marshall. “I would never have inflicted this kind of pain on people who don’t deserve it… I can’t get rid of those images of the true victims that suffered.”
Pattern: Autocrat and disappearing
“I think a red flag for a conservator is someone who is an autocrat,” said Hackard. “That somehow they feel that once they’re in control of this person, that they’re in total control.”
But the other red flag for Hackard is the conservator disappearing.
“That’s an enormous red flag – and again, I can think of many times people finally say, ‘I’m going to go to that conservator’s office and try to talk to that conservator since they won’t return my call,’” said Hackard.
Difficulty in reaching fiduciaries is named in a study on conservatorship abuse conducted by the Government Accountability Office, and found in court documents from the Professional Fiduciary Bureau.
In particular, filings from the Professional Fiduciary Bureau show Ronald Bradley Olund, a fiduciary whose license was later revoked, had a “voice mail message box that was full on several occasions and that family members “could not reach” them.
Inability to reach a fiduciary is something Gabe Meyers experienced as a client of fiduciary Akel.
“When we first hired her, issues began to arise,” said Meyers. “The ability for me to make contact with her became extremely strained.”
Documents from the fiduciary bureau reveal Akel failed to maintain a system of checks and balances as well as failed to pay several bills for a client.
We reached out to Akel, she declined to answer our specific questions about her past as a fiduciary and surrendering of her license.
Inaccessibility is something that haunts Lamborn.
“I went to see [my father] in the care home and they said, ‘Well he was in the hospital last night,’” Lamborn said. “I said, ‘Oh my God. Nobody let me know anything about him going to the hospital.’”
Lamborn said when she called Young, his conservator, to discuss her stepfather’s health, she couldn’t reach her.
“I kept calling and calling her and I couldn’t get a hold of her,” said Lamborn.
When her dad’s condition worsened, the lack of communication led to confusion over whether or not her father would receive life support, something Lamborn said he didn’t want. This wish is also reflected in a declaration signed by him in 1993 which shows if he was near death, he directed his doctor to “withhold or withdraw treatment.”
“The doctor was in the room and he said, ‘I’m going to put the breathing machine on him,’” Lamborn said. But when she told him not to, he asked if she had the authority to direct him to not do it.
“I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ So, he did,” Lamborn said.
Lamborn said after Young took over as conservator, Lamborn was unclear what power she still had and that she was led to believe, “very strongly [that] you have nothing to say about your dad now.”
But what Jamie allegedly didn’t know is that she still did have power over his health. She said this was revealed to her after her father passed when Young called her from the funeral home saying Lamborn had to be there to help with decisions as she had power of attorney for health.
When ABC10 asked Young about this, she responded with the following statement:
“This involved a Conservator case from 18 – 20 years ago. All of my accounts and reports were approved by the court. Once again, there is no factual basis for Ms. Lamborn’s accusations that a telephone call was not returned over 15 years ago. What is factual is that Jamie Lamborn held the power of attorney for her stepfather’s health care, and I was her stepfather’s Conservator. I recall talking to Ms. Lamborn numerous times regarding her stepfather’s care. There were discussions among Jamie, myself, and legal counsel as to who had the power to remove her stepfather from life support. My attorney eventually advised me that Ms. Lamborn’s power of attorney superseded my status, and thus the decision was left to Ms. Lamborn. It should be noted – For a reporter to use the accusation of a phone call not returned over 15 years ago as part of what clearly seems to be a hit piece based on this line of questioning is a rather incredulous example of your stations’ motivation to destroy an individual’s reputation.”
But Jamie said she wasn’t informed about the powers she still had over her dad.
“It made me cry. I said, ‘Why didn’t somebody tell me about that?!’” Lamborn said. “I was just so upset. So upset.”
Jamie’s father died in 2002.
Despite Jamie contesting in court, Young continued to serve as trustee of her father’s estate for the next 12 years with the documents showing the final disbursement of the trust being made in 2014.
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