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News Item
Minnesota’s conservator auditing program highlighted during United States Senate hearing on financial abuse

Posted: Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Minnesota Judicial Branch Conservator Account Auditing Program – a nation-leading effort to protect elderly and vulnerable adults from financial abuse – was highlighted during a meeting of the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging on Wednesday, November 30.
 
The hearing, entitled, "Trust Betrayed: Financial Abuse of Older Americans by Guardians and Others in Power,” examined what is known about the extent of elder financial abuse and what is being done to combat it, particularly in the context of guardianships and conservatorships. The hearing took place on Wednesday, November 30, at 2:30 p.m. EST/1:30 p.m. CST in room 562 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. A video of the proceedings is available at www.aging.senate.gov.
 
The Minnesota Judicial Branch was invited to participate in the hearing by Special Committee Chairman Sen. Susan M. Collins (R-Maine) and the committee’s ranking member Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri). In their written invitation, the senators said they were hopeful to learn more about the Conservator Account Auditing Program, and how the program can serve as a model for other states.
 
The Minnesota Judicial Branch was represented by Conservator Account Auditing Program Manager Cate Boyko, who has overseen the program since its inception in 2012.
 
“Financial abuse of seniors and vulnerable adults is a serious and growing problem in our country,” said Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea. “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 those appointed to manage their financial affairs. We are thankful for the opportunity to present to the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging on this important topic, and are eager to showcase Minnesota’s Conservator Account Auditing Program to the rest of the nation.”

About the Conservator Account Auditing Program
 
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.
  
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. CAAP changed this process in two fundamental ways:
 
  1. 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.
  2. 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, the Program is monitoring the assets of 5,575 vulnerable individuals, with assets totaling more than $908 million.
 
The stronger oversight of conservator accounts provided by CAAP is already resulting in better protection of elderly and vulnerable adults. In nearly 12 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 currently coordinating an effort to share the MyMinnesotaConservator application, along with other aspects of CAAP, with other states. Staff from CAAP have been asked to give presentations about the Program to court leaders in other states and other countries, including the Netherlands and Finland.
 
About the Minnesota Judiciary
 
The Minnesota Judicial Branch is made up of 10 judicial districts with 290 district court judgeships, 19 Court of Appeals judges, and seven Supreme Court justices. The Judicial Branch is governed by the Judicial Council, which is chaired by Lorie S. Gildea, Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.  The Minnesota Judicial Branch is mandated by the Minnesota Constitution to resolve disputes promptly and without delay. In 2015, there were nearly 1.3 million cases filed in district courts in Minnesota. For more information please visit www.mncourts.gov.