A new report by AARP's Public Policy Institute (PPI) identifies effective practices for monitoring court-appointed adult guardians, reducing the chances for abuses that occur when oversight is lax.

Conducted with the American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on Law and Aging, the report follows a 2006 AARP survey showing that a large number of state courts around the country fail to assign a monitor to visit vulnerable individuals under guardianship, leaving many Americans open to physical neglect and financial abuse. The 2006 survey also found that, in many jurisdictions, no one verifies the information in guardianship reports.

Recent news reports show that elder abuse is increasing, while the aging of the population means more Americans are likely to need court appointed guardians late in life.

"Court monitoring of guardians is crucial to guarantee the welfare of incapacitated persons," said John Rother, AARP's Policy Director. "Judicial monitoring in many areas remains spotty, and these recommended practices will provide a road map for better oversight."

The new AARP report examines innovative practices to improve guardianship oversight in jurisdictions around the country. Specifically, it highlights programs some states have adopted to audit guardianships, track case status, and resolve problems facing many wards, as well as apply sanctions when abuse is revealed.

Examples of more effective guardianship oversight cited in the report include:

- Harnessing technology: Ramsey County, MN uses an e-filing system so guardians can file their annual accountings online, and the system will have built-in red flags to identify irregularities that bear further investigation.

- Random audits: Broward County, FL randomly selects cases and requires additional financial documentation, which has a sentinel effect on all. Arizona's guardianship certification program performs intensive random audits of all professional guardians.

- Punishing malfeasance: Maricopa County, AZ issues fiduciary arrest warrants when necessary.

- A problem-solving approach: Suffolk County, NY developed a model guardianship court that includes mediation, a resource coordinator, volunteer advocates and the ability to integrate all pending cases involving the incapacitated person, including divorces, evictions and other matters.

The AARP-ABA report, titled "Guarding the Guardians: Promising Practices for Court Monitoring", was released at a press conference today at the Capitol. Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon, Ranking Member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, joined with AARP and the ABA at the event.

"Too many of America's seniors are being taken advantage of by swindlers intent on doing them harm and stealing their hard-earned nest eggs," said Senator Smith. "I am pleased to be working with AARP and the ABA to highlight the tremendous need to improve America's guardianship system."

Senator Herb Kohl, Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, said: "AARP's research will most assuredly help state courts across the country improve their guardianship systems. I am eager to continue collaborating with my Senate colleagues and with organizations like AARP to ensure that all seniors under guardianship are well-protected."

"Proper court monitoring can protect the dignity, finances and peace of mind for thousands of older Americans, as well as their loved ones," said Joseph O'Connor, chair of the ABA Commission on Law and Aging. "It is every bit as necessary as the court protections we offer children with appointed guardians."

The best practices outlined in the report include:

- Reports and plans: Key improvements would include: requiring early first reports to ensure the guardian is on track; providing clear and web-accessible forms, and requiring prospective plans for personal decisions and estate management.

- Court actions: Enforcement of reporting responsibilities should be rigorous, with electronic filing, instruction by judges and staff, automated reminder notices and scheduling compliance conferences.

- Practices to protect assets: Courts can require a financial management plan for the ward, require supporting documentation with accountings, and use bonding and restricted accounts.

- Court review of reports: Courts should review reports and accounts carefully and respond quickly to potential irregularities.

- Investigation and sanctions: The incapacitated person needs to be visited by a trained individual to ensure no malfeasance exists. Sanctions such as fines or removal should follow irregularities.

- Court links with community groups, government agencies: Work with agencies such as adult protective services and long-term care ombudsman can enhance volunteer monitoring and leverage training resources.

American Association of Retired Persons