Guardianship survey shows courts have made progress but must do more
Britney Spears’s lengthy legal battle to gain control over her finances is the rare instance when the public hears about conservatorship and guardianship cases. NCSC has long advocated that these cases be handled diligently, and with that in mind, our researchers surveyed guardians, lawyers, judges, and court administrators nationwide to gauge how courts are overseeing guardianship cases.
The recently released survey results—from professionals in 46 states and the District of Columbia—show that effective, ongoing monitoring of guardianship and conservatorship cases continues to challenge state courts.
The researchers recommend that courts require future care plans, review annual accounting and well-being reports, make regular visits to individuals under guardianship, and conduct hearings to assess the continuing need for guardianships.
“These steps are critical for courts to prevent and detect negligence or malfeasance,” said Diane Robinson, who leads NCSC’s guardianship research.
The researchers used the survey results to identify seven common themes:
- Guardianship monitoring varies greatly from state to state and court to court. About four out of five respondents said most courts require accounting and personal status reports annually. That’s good news, but future care and financial management plans, which are also critically important to guardianships, are a standard requirement for only about a third of the courts.
- More courts use technology to monitor cases. More than 80 percent of judges and 42 percent of respondents overall said technology is used to identify late filings—substantial increases from a 2005 survey.
- The need for better data collections remains high. Fewer than half of the judges and court staff said adequate information is entered into the case management system.
- Visits to individuals under guardianship are lacking in many states. Nearly 40 percent reported that no one visits other than the guardian.
- Adequate funding for monitoring guardianships remains a critical need. Only 20 percent of judges and 11 percent of respondents overall indicated that sufficient resources are available.
- A large majority of courts do not regularly reassess the need for the guardianship or conservatorship. Fewer than 10 percent of respondents said courts routinely hold review hearings to assess the ongoing need for the guardianship or conservatorship.
- Judges and court administrators view the courts’ role as more active and engaged than other survey respondents. Researchers theorize this assessment may be due to their knowledge of the courts and available resources. For the sake of those who rely on guardians, the researchers say courts must continue to improve their monitoring role.
“Although guardianships can last for many years, courts retain the responsibility to diligently monitor them throughout the life of the guardianship,” said Robinson, a senior court research associate. “Courts should also routinely evaluate guardianships to make sure that the least restrictive option for the individual is in place, especially given that people’s needs can change over time.”
To learn more about NCSC’s guardianship work, visit the Center for Elders and the Courts.
NCSC continues to support eviction diversion efforts, White House webinar today
In June, NCSC launched a diagnostic tool to help courts assess their readiness for eviction diversion programs while also providing resources and additional guidance. The Center also lent its expertise to a panel discussion during the first-ever virtual White House Summit on Eviction Prevention on June 30.
A second virtual White House event will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. today when officials will answer questions about emergency rental assistance and eviction diversion, showcase best practices and highlight ways to help at-risk tenants. To attend today’s webinar, register now.
NCSC Principal Court Management consultants Danielle Hirsch and Zach Zarnow have developed a series of short Tiny Chat videos to explain various aspects of eviction cases. The Center has also presented several webinars to assist courts with eviction case management. Visit our eviction diversion page to learn more.