Results from a survey of judges and court managers on guardianship issues (Adult Guardianship Court Data and Issues) demonstrated the inability of many courts to provide basic data on guardianships and conservatorships and was the basis for the following recommendation:
Courts should explore ways in which technology can assist them in documenting, tracking and monitoring guardianships.
Recommendations from the Third National Guardianship Summit (Recommendation #2.5) encourage courts to use available technology to:
- Assist in monitoring guardianships
- Develop a database of guardianship elements, including indicators of potential problems
- Schedule required reports
- Produce minutes from court hearings
- Generate statistical reports
- Develop online forms and/or e-filing
- Provide public access to identified non-confidential, filed documents.
While many state courts are unable to properly monitor and document guardianships, a number of courts are advancing the field by applying technology to these case types. Generally, software applications can be used to enhance the court's responsibilities in overseeing the guardianship process and to identify guardian activities that appear to be out of the norm. At its basic level, software can be used to create a "tickler" system that primarily reminds the court and notifies guardians of due dates of particular reports, such as annual accountings. At a higher level, financial-based software can be used to detect anomalies in conservatorships. Current software applications make court monitoring of conservatorships and the detection of financial abuse and exploitation more manageable, but are less applicable to guardianship cases that require an examination of the person's well-being. Several examples showcase how technology can improve the guardianship process and court oversight.
Guardianship Reporting Software
Florida's 17th Judicial Circuit (Broward Country) uses guardianship reporting software that includes the following "smart forms", which can be e-filed:
1. Annual guardianship plan
2. Simplified annual accounting
3. Application for appointment as guardian
4. Disclosure statement
5. Employee statement with a fiduciary obligation to a ward
6. Annual guardianship investigation checklist – non professional
7. Annual guardianship investigation checklist –professional
8. Professional guardianship checklist – additional appointments
10. Petition for order authorizing payment of attorney's fees and expenses
11. Petition for order authorizing payment of compensation and expenses of guardian
The goal of the software is to reduce paper logistics, offload costly data entry, and reduce errors and redundancy. The software offers judges and court staff flexibility in searching particular items and running reports. For example, reports could be run on cases where the visitation of the respondent was not completed once per quarter or on cases where income increased or decreased by a specific percentage when compared to the prior accounting.
Online Accounting Software
In 2011, the Minnesota Judicial Branch implemented a statewide web-based program for conservators to enter their account information online to the courts—the Conservator Account Monitoring Preparation and Electronic Reporting (CAMPER) Program. The system is used in all 87 counties in 10 judicial districts and is the first of its kind in the nation. The court sites the following benefits:
- The software is able to produce comparative reports on demand.
- Analysis across all or a selected group of conservators/conservatorships can be completed quickly.
- Additional supplemental information is handled electronically.
- Audit abilities are greatly enhanced.
- The increased capabilities, documentation, and accountability have a deterrent effect.
- Less staff time is required for reviewing and filing reports and associated activities.
- The system reduces paper and paperwork.
In Protecting the Assets of our Most Vulnerable in Minnesota, the advantages and disadvantages of the system are weighed. In particular, the ability to monitor and audit accounts through uniform reports was lacking in the early version of the software. Minnesota is currently addressing these limitations by developing a stronger reporting and auditing function. In fiscal year 2012/13, the program will evolve into CAAP (Conservator Account Auditing Program), which will feature a centralized unit to focus on auditing of accounts.