New conservatorship cases in Sacramento County Superior Court have risen sharply over the past three years. Judge Steven M. Gevercer, who presides in Department 129 (the Probate Division), presented startling numbers at a March 21, 2017 lunch of the Sacramento County Bar Association’s Probate and Estate Planning Section. The panelists, including the judge and veteran court staff, spoke on “Issues Arising in Conservatorship Cases.”
According to Judge Gevercer, in Fiscal Year 2014 (ending June 30, 2014), there were 238 new conservatorship cases filed in Sacramento. The number rose to 287 new filings in Fiscal Year 2015 and 333 in Fiscal Year 2016. This amounts to a whopping 40 percent increase in conservatorship cases over the most recent three years.
Judge Gevercer further reported that Sacramento County Superior Court presently manages 2,800-2,900 ongoing conservatorship cases, requiring court staff to review some 1,400 cases per year. The Probate Unit has nine full time investigators to attend to the high caseload.
To put this in perspective, about one out of 500 Sacramento County residents is a conservatee.
Surprisingly, at least for this blogger, there are more conservatees than foster kids in Sacramento County (about 2,900 versus 2,400), according to data obtained from the California Child Welfare Indicators Project.
Statewide, current probate filing data is not readily available. The 2016 Court Statistics Report, issued by the Judicial Council of California, reports on the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015. That report shows that all probate filings increased from 40,988 in Fiscal Year 2011 to 44,456 in Fiscal Year 2015. Conservatorship filings, however, are not separately reported.
Why the spike in conservatorship cases in Sacramento? The aging baby boomers are likely a major contributor. According to US Census Data, Sacramento County’s total population increased almost 6 percent during the period from April 2010 to July 2015, reaching a total of about 1.5 million. During the same period, the population aged 65 and up increased from 11.2 percent to 13.2 percent of the county total. Thus, seniors are the fastest growing group.
In my practice, I am seeing more conservatorships, typically involving concerns over an elder’s wellbeing and finances. Dementia, associated with Alzheimer’s disease, is often a big factor in these cases. While good estate planning usually avoids the need for a conservatorship, conflicts among siblings or others over the control of an elder’s health care, living situation and/or assets often spark conservatorship filings.
Even with demographic trends and increasing wealth associated with a real estate market on the upswing, it’s puzzling why conservatorship filings are up so sharply. Stay tuned to see if the surge in Sacramento conservatorship filings continues in the coming years.