January 03, 2020 Court Technology Column

Guardianship Case Monitoring: Pennsylvania’s State-wide Integrated System Approach

By Marcus W. Reinkensmeyer, Phoenix, AZ

Victimization of seniors is a wide spread problem, given an estimated $2.9 to $36.6 billion of financial abuse and fraud to elders occurring on an annual basis. State and local courts across the country seek to protect seniors through pro-active management of guardianship cases. Too often, however, these efforts are complicated by unavailability of accurate case monitoring data, limited ability to track the work of legal guardians and lack of cross-court information sharing. 

In Pennsylvania, the state judicial branch has overcome these obstacles through deployment of a Guardianship Tracking System (GTS). This integrated state-wide tool facilitates court control over management of guardianship cases for incapacitated persons. Using existing  in-house resources, the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC) developed this system under the direction of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s multi-disciplinary Elder Law Task Force.

Deployed in Pennsylvania’s Orphan Courts in 2018, GTS provides seamless automation support for approximately 18,000 active guardianship cases with the following functionality:

  • Automation and streamlining of local court functions in the 67 Orphan Court Divisions of the Commonwealth’s Court of Common Pleas
  • Electronic notifications to guardians of upcoming and overdue reports
  • Compliance tracking
  • Insertion of “flags” indicating concerns of potential loss and neglect
  • State-wide propagation of alerts placed on guardians
  • Generation of state-wide statistical reports
  • Electronic filing of guardian inventories and annual reports

GTS tracks a number or “real life factors” risk factors such how often a person is moved to a nursing home following an adjudication and how often an attorney is paid by the county in a guardianship case.  Provided with this kind of management data, the judiciary is well prepared to identify and prioritize system improvement initiatives based upon prevalence, level of risk and other key factors. 

Addressing the benefits of GTS, Amy Ceraso, Director of Information Technology for AOPC, stated, “It is really important to improve guardianship case monitoring. The GTS design is based on the concept of automated flags, which provide a visual indicator to help staff in reviewing reports. The system monitors 32 conditions and detects suspect case activity like ‘Unapproved gift expense’ and ‘Principal assets invalid.’ The system has bit of intelligence, as it can also identify and flag compound risk factors.”

GTS is also the Pennsylvania judiciary’s exclusive platform for guardians to electronically file guardian inventories and annual reports with the court. The courts have achieved an 82% rate of electronic filing, with 23,000 electronically submitted via GTS since 2018.  The secure guardian user interface includes a “wizard,” which dynamically guides the filer through the case submission process. Some case data is pre-populated from the prior year’s report.  Arithmetic errors in guardian reports are eliminated, as GTS does not allow electronic submission of a report that is missing required case data.  Other benefits of the GTS e-filing system include cost-savings in paper, postage and time associated with manual data entry. 

In July of 2019, the Pennsylvania courts received a prestigious Court Technology Award from the National Association for Court Management (NACM) and the Court Information Technology Officers Consortium (CITOC).   This award recognizes innovation and excellence in the use of information technology in the court setting. 

Development and deployment of GTS involved a partnership of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, local courts, the guardianship community and other stakeholders. In the year leading up to the system deployment, APOC analysts worked closely with individual Orphan Courts on data clean-up, closing cases with deceased parties and reconciling electronic data with paper record files. 

In discussing the implementation of GTS, Amy Whitworth, IT Analyst for APOC, explained, “The project has been very rewarding, as there is a strong connection to the vulnerable population. GTS is very well received by both the courts and the guardianship community. The guardianship community appreciates having uniform practices and procedures.”  

View Pennsylvania’s GTS Video

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Thanks to Stacey Witalec, Public Information Officer; Amy Cesaro, Director of Information Technology; and Amy Whitworth, IT Analyst, for the APOC, for their generous sharing of time and information.  For further information, contact Amy Ceraso or Amy Whitworth

    Marcus W. Reinkensmeyer, Director, Court Services Division, Administrative Office of the Courts, Arizona Supreme Court

    Marcus W. Reinkensmeyer, Director, Court Services Division, Administrative Office of the Courts, Arizona Supreme Court

    mreinkensmeyer@courts.az.gov