Contact: Vincent J. Russo
Manager of Communications
& Intergovernmental Relations
(860) 231-2442, ext. 332
(413) 523-5460 – cell
Monday, Nov. 19, 2018
Conservatorship training and support initiatives unveiled
Probate Court receives national & state AARP awards
(West Hartford) The Office of the Probate Court Administrator announced a series of initiatives to provide support and oversight of conservators. Over the past year, the Probate Courts developed standards of practice and free online interactive training for conservators, and began random audits of conservator accounts in an effort to ensure the more than 22,000 vulnerable individuals who are conserved are receiving proper care.
This month, the Connecticut AARP presented its National Capitol Caregiver Award to Judge Paul J. Knierim on behalf of the Connecticut Probate Courts, for their work in the conservatorship arena. The program is mentioned in this month’s AARP, The Magazine.
“To serve as a conservator is truly an awesome responsibility,” said Judge Knierim. “We owe it to conservators and conserved persons to provide the best possible training, support and oversight.”
“I am glad AARP was able to be a part of this important work,” said Nora L. Duncan, State Director of AARP Connecticut. “The result is tools that help conservators understand their roles and responsibilities so they can do the right thing for vulnerable seniors and loved ones. Equally as important is that the tools help all of us identify and stop those who are not doing the right thing, protecting the vulnerable from financial exploitation and abuse.”
A conservator is a person appointed by the Probate Court to oversee the finances or personal care of an adult whom the court determines to be incapable of managing his or her affairs. This often occurs when an elderly person has dementia, but it can also happen for a person with mental illness, substance abuse disorder or intellectual disability. The conservator helps the conserved person make decisions about housing, finances, medical care and other basic needs. The majority of conservators are family members with no experience in this area. However, often a person does not have a willing or able relative to take on this role. The Probate Courts then rely on professionals such as attorneys and social workers to shoulder the responsibility for little or no pay.
Pursuant to Public Act 17-7, An Act Concerning Conservator Accountability, which was sponsored by the Probate Courts, conservators now have formal written standards of practice to follow. The standards were derived from national materials, but tailored to Connecticut by judges, attorneys and professionals in the field of elder justice. They now provide a clear statement of duties, criteria for decision-making and ethical guidelines for all conservators.
Another support for those assuming oversight for a family member is the new online training for conservators developed in partnership with the Elder Justice Coalition and the State Justice Institute. Found on the Probate Court website at www.ctprobate.gov, the training program provides an in-depth overview of the responsibilities of a conservator and provides many resources to help the conservator acquire services and protect the person under their care. All new conservators are encouraged to complete the training program within 30 days of appointment. There is a version for family members and one for professional conservators. A Spanish-language version is in final stages of approval.
The third leg of the conservatorship initiative is random financial audits of conservator accounts. Accounting firms engaged by the Probate Court Administrator’s Office have begun conducting financial reviews of randomly selected cases to ensure they are properly managed. At present, Connecticut conservators manage an estimated $350 million in assets of conserved persons.
Key Connecticut Conservatorship Facts:
Ø Connecticut has 22,000 active conservatorship cases safeguarding more than $350 million in assets
Ø The number of individuals with a conservator has grown 23% over the past five years
Ø In the past year, 5,000 new conservatorships were approved
Ø Probate Courts have seen an 83% increase in indigent conservatorship cases in the past five years
“Probate Courts literally beg attorneys and social workers to be conservators for the neediest members of our community. We pay what we can to the professional conservators but it’s not enough,” said Judge Knierim. “We hope that the General Assembly will understand that the Probate Courts are subsidizing state services with a budget that’s less than half of what it was five years ago. We are filling holes in the state’s safety net, but as our caseload increases, we need a reasonable appropriation.”