Director of Communications
National Center for State Courts
Williamsburg, Va. (November 30, 2016) — An estimated $50 billion in assets is under state courts’ watch in conservatorship cases across the country, according to a soon-to-be-released survey conducted by the National Center for State Courts. This number is based on projections from data from a handful of states. The survey of state courts also shows that 176,000 new conservatorship or guardianship cases were filed in state courts in 2015, and there were an estimated 1.3 million open cases. Guardianships, which oversee the physical health and well-being of a person, and conservatorships, which involve managing the estate of a person, impact older adults more frequently due to diminished capacity.
These new statistics provide valuable insight to a growing national problem of how courts must recognize and deal with the financial exploitation of those under a conservatorship. Data collection from state courts on conservatorships and guardianships cases remains challenging, though a number of states have taken significant steps to improve the quality and comprehensiveness of data.
Today, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging is holding a hearing, “Trust Betrayed: Financial Abuse of Older Americans by Guardians and Others in Power,” to examine how widespread the problem is, to identify solutions, and to assess several states’ progress in data collection.
NCSC in conjunction with the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) have addressed this issue for years, creating the Center for Elders and the Courts, which researches issues and provides resources related to aging, probate, and elder abuse. In July 2016, CCJ and COSCA encouraged state administrative offices of the courts to designate a “point of contact” position to improve guardianship/conservatorship practices.
This week, the CCJ/COSCA Joint Committee on Elders and the Courts and NCSC staff meet to discuss a collaborative strategic action plan, the Adult Guardianship Initiative, based on the recently released data. One of courts’ biggest challenges to making needed improvements is the lack of state and federal resources devoted to guardianship and conservatorship cases.
The CCJ/COSCA/NCSC Adult Guardianship Initiative proposes an ambitious agenda that focuses on partnerships of key stakeholders, prioritizes the protection and enhancement of individual rights, promotes modernization and transparency in the guardianship/conservatorship process, and improves court oversight. The Initiative calls for federal support and implementation of a Guardianship Court Improvement Program to bring nationwide reform to this area.
The NCSC Backgrounder is designed to provide the media with statistics and facts related to current issues of interest.
The National Center for State Courts, headquartered in Williamsburg, Va., is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice by providing leadership and service to the state courts. Founded in 1971 by the Conference of Chief Justices and Chief Justice of the United States Warren E. Burger, NCSC provides education, training, technology, management, and research services to the nation's state courts.