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How Much Does It Cost Appoint a Guardian?

By Bernard A. Krooks, Esq.

Clients often ask us how much it will cost to get a guardian appointed for a parent or other relative. It is hard to answer with precision, but it is a fair question. Let us see if we can give you some guidance.

First, let’s not forget that you should be doing everything possible to ensure that a guardianship does not become necessary.  What do I mean by that?  Make sure you and your loved ones have executed advance health care and financial directives such as a health care proxy, living will and durable power of attorney.  In addition, you should discuss your wishes with the people you appoint as your agents under these documents.  By taking these steps you will reduce the likelihood that a guardianship will ever become necessary.  Nevertheless, sometimes a guardianship becomes necessary even if you have taken care of your estate planning in advance.  Thus, this article to discuss the fees involved.  Keep in mind that guardianship procedures differ state by state (and sometimes even among different counties in the same state) and we are talking only about downstate New York below. couple_lawyer_blog

Also, we are assuming that there is no wild peculiarity. If you file a guardianship petition as to your mother and your brother hires an attorney to contest the guardianship in any way, then all bets are off as to what the guardianship will cost.  Among other things, your brother may claim that mom does not need a guardian or he may disagree with you as to who the guardian should be.  This is called a contested guardianship and there is no way to predict the total costs involved.  Suffice to say that it will cost much more than an uncontested guardianship proceeding.

And finally, we are only talking about the cost of getting you (or someone) appointed as guardian. You may need legal assistance after the appointment, as well (in fact, you probably will). That will depend on the complexity of your family member’s guardianship — and that can increase for a variety of reasons.

Now that we have gotten all the disclaimers out of the way, here’s a summary of the expected costs:
1.    Court filing fees and process server fees.  Assume about $500 here. Most of that is the filing fee itself, which has to be paid before things get underway.

2.    Your lawyer’s fees. If you hire an experienced guardianship law firm to represent you, your legal fees are likely to be several thousand dollars for an uncontested guardianship. This fee will be your responsibility regardless of how the proceeding turns out. It can (subject to court approval) be reimbursed from your family member’s resources if you are successful, but most lawyers will expect to be paid up front out of your funds, or soon after proceedings are initiated, and not wait until you have been appointed and can get access to the parent’s or other relative’s funds.

3.    The court-appointed lawyer’s fees. Unless your family member already has a lawyer (and you can’t select one for him or her — it would have to be someone they already had a relationship with or they hired after the proceeding began) the court, in some cases, will appoint an attorney to represent them. The lawyers who accept these appointments come from a rotating list, and they mostly charge their regular hourly rates. The bottom line: don’t be at all surprised if the court-appointed lawyer’s bill exceeds a few thousand dollars.   Fortunately, in most uncontested cases, there is no need for a court-appointed lawyer.

4.    The court-appointed investigator; otherwise known as the court evaluator. Another list of court appointees yields someone who has a social work, medical or legal background, and who is appointed to report to the court about your family member’s circumstances. In most cases, this person is a lawyer despite the fact that this person does not perform a legal function.  The cost for that investigation and report is frequently in the range of a couple to a few thousand dollars.

5.    Bond premiums are due if you (or someone else) are appointed guardian of the property. The premium for this insurance policy can be paid from your family member’s assets. The cost of the bond varies by the size of the estate being managed. Surety bonds can be difficult to purchase at any price, and the availability of bonding companies is often limited.

Add all that up and you can see that the cost of getting a guardian appointed will probably exceed several thousand dollars and can quickly grow to more like $10,000. And remember: that only gets you to the starting point. Additional costs for lawyers, accountants and court proceedings will add more to that figure over the years after your appointment. All the more reason to make sure you and your family are doing everything possible to avoiding the necessity of a guardianship proceeding.


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