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News Item
Minnesota’s conservator auditing program earns national award, recognition

Posted: Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A new program launched by the Minnesota Judicial Branch to better protect elderly and vulnerable adults from financial abuse has received the 2015 Justice Achievement Award from the National Association for Court Management.
 
The Conservator Account Auditing Program (CAAP) is a nation-leading initiative to protect the assets of vulnerable individuals – persons with developmental disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or traumatic brain injuries – for whom the court has appointed a conservator to manage the individual’s financial affairs.
 
“Today in Minnesota, thousands of elderly and vulnerable adults rely on a conservator to responsibly manage their financial affairs,” said Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea. “While we know the vast majority of conservators strive to always work in the best interests of those they serve, we also know that conservators acting unethically, illegally, or negligently can severely harm the quality of life and financial security of a vulnerable individual and his or her family. Through the Conservator Account Auditing Program, Minnesota has put in place one of the strongest safeguards in the nation to protect vulnerable individuals from fraud and mismanagement by conservators.”
 
Through CAAP, the Minnesota Judicial Branch has modernized and improved the way the state oversees the work of conservators. Before the implementation of CAAP, conservator records were submitted to the court on paper, frequently accompanied by boxes of receipts and other documentation. This unwieldy process put a heavy burden on local district court staff responsible for overseeing the work of conservators. The CAAP program changed this process in two fundamental ways:
 
  • Conservators now submit transactions through an intuitive, online reporting system that has the look and feel of many popular financial applications. This system, called MyMNConservator, is the first and only online mandatory reporting tool for conservators in the country. It provides text and video support for conservators, automatically performs calculations, and provides ready access to expense and receipt details. Most importantly, the system contains built-in “red flag” logic that automatically reviews filed accounts and alerts auditors to possible errors, inconsistencies, or transactions that require further review.
  • The program also established a centralized conservator account auditing center, staffed by a team of trained experts who conduct compliance audits on conservator accounts from across the state. By centralizing this important auditing work, CAAP has led to stronger oversight of conservatorship accounts, while freeing up significant staff resources at the district court level.  
Today, CAAP is monitoring the assets of 4,600 vulnerable individuals in Minnesota, with assets totaling more than $720 million.
 
The stronger oversight of conservator accounts provided by CAAP is already resulting in better protection of elderly and vulnerable adults. In nearly 14 percent of cases audited under the program, auditors have found concerns of loss, inappropriate loans or expenditures, or commingling of funds. Audit letters have frequently prompted repayment of funds from conservators. Hearings held on these audits have resulted in discharge of conservators, judgments and orders for repayment, and criminal prosecution and conviction.
 
This enhanced oversight of conservators is especially important considering recent statistics highlighting the growing amount of money lost through exploitation of elders in the United States. A 2011 MetLife Study estimated the national annual financial loss at $2.9 billion dollars – an increase of 12 percent over their findings in 2008. More recently, the 2015 True Link Report on Elder Financial Abuse estimated that seniors lose $36.48 billion each year to elder financial abuse.
 
As other states respond to the troubling increase in elder financial abuse, CAAP has quickly become one of the most effective and celebrated conservator auditing programs in the country. The National Center for State Courts is coordinating a plan to share the MyMNConservator online reporting system, along with other program elements, with other states across the country. Staff from the CAAP program have been asked to give presentations about the program to court leaders in other states and other countries, including the Netherlands and Finland.
 
“In just a year of full implementation, CAAP has already provided significant benefits to conservators, the court system, and, most importantly, the vulnerable individuals who depend on conservators to protect their financial assets,” said Chief Justice Gildea. “We are honored to receive this national recognition for the CAAP program, and are pleased to see the real impact this program is having on the lives of those who rely on conservators for their financial well-being.”
 
According to the National Association for Court Management, the Justice Achievement Award was established to “publicly recognize courts and related organizations for meritorious projects and exemplary accomplishments that enhance the administration of justice.” In addition to this national award, the CAAP program will also receive a 2015 State Government Innovation Award from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs later this month.