Who should pay attorney ad litem fees, guardian ad litem fees, the applicant's attorneys' fees and other costs when someone applies for the creation of a guardianship? Three bills now pending in the Texas Legislature take different approaches.
Under Section 665A of the Texas Probate Code, the proposed ward's estate is charged with attorney ad litem fees, guardian ad litem fees and other costs -- whether or not the application for appointment of a guardian is successful -- unless his or her estate is insufficient to pay those fees and costs, in which case the county bears the expense.
Under Section 665B, if a guardianship or management trust is created, the court may order that any applicant's attorneys' fees be paid from the ward's estate, or from the county treasury, if the court finds that the applicant acting in good faith and for just cause.
Is it fair that the ward's or the proposed ward's estate is required to pay the costs of the attorney ad litem or guardian ad litem? Are there times when another party should have to bear those expenses? Should the county treasury be stuck with ad litem fees and costs and the applicant's attorneys' fees if the proposed ward's estate is insufficient to pay them?
SB 286 would add this sentence to Section 665A: "The court may allocate attorney's fees taxed as costs under this section among the parties as the court finds is fair and just." This bill, authored by Sen. Chris Harris (R-Arlington), would allow the judge to make another party pay the costs of attorneys ad litem, guardians ad litem, interpreters, etc., if it is "fair and just" to do so. Section 665B is amended to permit the applicant's attorneys' fees to be allocated among the parties to the guardianship proceeding "as the court finds is fair and just," so long as a guardianship or management trust is created. SB 286 also requires ad litem fees under Section 665A and the applicant's attorneys' fees under Section 665B to be set in an amount which is "fair and just."
SB 220 takes a similar approach. This bill, authored by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), amends Section 665A to permit the court to "allocate amounts taxed as costs under this section among the parties as the court finds is just and equitable." It provides that, if the proposed ward's estate is unable to pay "the costs allocated to the proposed ward," the county is responsible for those costs. SB 220 also amends Section 665B to permit the applicant's attorneys' fees to be "allocated as the court finds is just and equitable," so long as the court creates a guardianship or management trust.
Surely if it is "fair and just" to allocate costs and fees to a party under SB 286, it also will be "just and equitable" to do so under SB 220. Perhaps the bills could be reconciled so that costs and fees are allocated if it is "fair, just and equitable" to do so.
HB 1325 gives the court less authority to charge others with ad litem fees. This bill, authored by Rep. Will Hartnett (R-Dallas), would add subsection (b) to Section 665A: "If the proposed ward's assets are insufficient to pay for the cost of an attorney ad litem appointed under this chapter, the court may order the applicant in the guardianship proceeding to pay that cost." A similar change to Section 669 would provide the same treatment for guardian ad litem fees.
HB 1325 would allow the court to relieve the county treasury of the obligation to pay an attorney ad litem or guardian ad litem if the proposed ward's estate was unable to bear that cost. It would not permit assessing these costs against the applicant or other parties if the proposed ward's estate is able to bear them. The authority of the court to assess costs and the applicant's attorney's fees in SB 220 and SB 286 does not depend on whether or not the proposed ward is unable to pay those costs and fees.
Some judges have wanted the power to assess costs and fees in guardianships against litigants whose conduct demonstrates that they should bear them. SB 220 and SB 286 give them that authority. HB 1325 does not.