Staffing and Volunteer Programs

A report based on a survey of judges and court administrators (Adult Guardianship Court Data and Issues) found that, in many cases, guardianship monitoring is being neglected as a result of a shortage in staff and resources. Among the findings from the survey is that "specialized court staff are essential to raise guardianship monitoring standards." Yet, staffing has been especially challenging as courts in a number of states have lost resources in response to budget cuts. This has resulted in greater reliance on volunteer monitoring programs, or in the worst case scenario, the inability to actively monitor guardians and conservators according to standards.

Court Staffing

Probate court staffing and general training remain topics of concern for many courts. This issue can be particularly challenging in courts that do not have a specialized probate division or seldom hear guardianship cases. In testimony to the California Supreme Court Probate Conservatorship Task Force, the Director of the San Francisco Probate Court outlined the roles and responsibilities of probate court staff (investigators, examiners, assistant director, and director). For example, a probate court examiner may perform the following tasks:

  • Ensure original bank statements are included in all accountings
  • Recommend full bonding to judicial officers
  • Document that the date of the next accounting is contained in the court order
  • Recommend appointment of attorneys based on faulty accountings
  • Provide a detailed review of accountings, including all income and expenses

The New York State Supreme Court Report of the Commission of Fiduciary Appointments recommended the establishment of "court examiner specialists" to "monitor court examiner performance, review work product, ensure that all required accountings are being timely filed and expeditiously examined, and target cases that are out of compliance." Financial expertise is generally required of staff who review conservatorships.

Volunteer Monitoring Programs

To compensate for inadequate levels of staffing and resources, a number of courts have developed volunteer monitoring programs, overseen by a qualified coordinator, to supplement court staff. The American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging describes volunteer monitoring programs, as a win-win solution for the courts and those placed under a guardianship. The Commission offers a three-part Handbook on Volunteer Guardianship Monitoring and Assistance to help courts establish volunteer monitoring programs:

Program Coordinator's Handbook Trainer's Handbook Volunteer's Handbook

Additionally, the National Center for State Courts created an implementation guide for Georgia that contains information that may be helpful to courts considering the development of such programs.

Examples of Volunteer Monitoring Programs

The Concept of Eldercaring Coordination

The Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) created a task force on eldercaring coordination, which is described as a dispute resolution option specifically for those high conflict cases involving issues related to the care and needs of elders.  This strategy is applied to high conflict guardianship/conservatorship cases.  In 2014, the ACR Task Force published its guidelines for eldercaring coordination, which includes qualifications and resource for individuals who serve in the capacity of Eldercare Coordinators.