Differentiated Case Management

Differentiated case management (DCM) in probate cases may be the wave of the future. Probate DCM to Protect Vulnerable Adults demonstrates how DCM can be used both before and after appointments of guardianships/conservatorships. The article is based on an assessment of the Probate and Mental Health Department of the Maricopa County Superior Court in Arizona. DCM is described as a technique that allows courts to tailor the case management process to the requirements of individual cases. Rather than using a first-in, first-out basis that treats all cases identically, DCM uses a triage approach to assign cases into different categories, and hence, case management tracks. The following table summarize features of DCM noted in the article and Maricopa County assessment.

Phase DCM Applied

Types of Cases

Action applied to Subset


Uncontested Petitions

Appointment of Fiduciary

Contested Petitions

1. Hearing on a Contested Petition

2. Alternative Dispute Resolution

3. Settlement Conference

4. Trial on Contested Petition

5. Appointment on Fiduciary


Minimum Risk

Biennial telephone interview with respondent

Moderate Risk

Annual in-person visit with respondent

Maximum Risk

Combination of actions, including case compliance audit or forensic investigation

DCM can be readily applied at the pre-appointment stage as contested petitions can be readily identified by the court. However, the practice of separating guardians and conservators into appropriate risk levels after appointment is challenging (see "Red Flags"). Included in the Arizona Supreme Court's Committee on Improving Judicial Oversight and Processing of Probate Court Matters Final Report is a risk assessment form (Appendix D) that provides a guide for placement of guardians/conservators into Triage Model "A" or Triage Model "B." Triage Model "A" calls for mandatory post-appointment monitoring and a visit from a volunteer guardian monitor within two years of the initial appointment. Triage Model "B" provides full judicial discretion in post-appointment monitoring activities.

The use of DCM in probate cases holds great promise. But at this time, a true risk assessment tool based on an empirical study identifying statistically validated factors does not exist. Rather, "red flags" that form the basis of assessment tools derive from anecdotal experiences. Thus, some caution must be used to determine the category of risk most appropriate to each case.


  • NCSC's Caseflow Management Resource Guide
  • This report summarizes NCSC’s evaluation of the Maricopa County Superior Court’s Probate Department, including their use of differentiated case management (DCM) and a Probate Evaluation Tool (PET) that is used to assign guardianships into low, medium and high monitoring levels.