Client: Probate Services Unit of a Mid-Sized California Superior Court

The Challenge: The court sought assistance in identifying and remedying deficiencies in workflow, staffing levels, and organizational structure. Chronic case processing delays, a backlog of overdue conservatorship investigations, late filings and inadequate guardianship investigations had resulted. These problems were especially troubling to the court because of the vulnerability to abuse of parties consisting primarily of the elderly, the disabled, and minors.

Our Approach

Probate services include a diverse set of activities. Staff conduct field investigations to monitor the living conditions and care provided by conservators and guardians. Other responsibilities include financial and legal analyses of accountings in conservatorship, guardianship and trust and estate matters. This combination of social service, legal and financial activities requires a divergent professional skill set. In addition, in some instances, the activities of the Probate Unit and Family Court services overlap. Finally, we recognize that a high proportion of self-represented litigants with insufficient understanding of guardianship cases exacerbate case processing delays.

We interviewed bench officers, court managers, investigators, and staff of the Probate Clerk’s Office and gathered case processing and workload statistics to identify the source and extent of processing delays and problems with investigations. We conducted a facilitated focus group to develop flow charts illustrating the most efficient workflow for investigatory, filing and calendaring processes. We also interviewed probate managers, investigators and administrative and clerical staff at seven California courts to identify best practices and innovative probate practices that could be adopted by the court.

The Results

The study’s results included:

  • New staffing standards for guardianship, conservatorship and trust and estate matters;
  • Recommended addition of probate examiners to handle the accounting associated with conservatorship and guardianship cases;
  • Improved alignment between probate and family court services through changes in their organizational structure and management;
  • A consensus among the staff and supervisors of the Clerks Office and Probate Unit on the optimal workflow for filing and calendaring processes, resulting in a prioritized list of recommended changes for case processing and calendaring;
  • Realignment of administrative/clerical support to enable collection of workload data to identify staffing needs and support budget requests and operational changes; and
  • Recommendation of a mandatory orientation for guardianship petitioners.

Consultants: Kate Harrison, Phyllis Smith and Hampton Smith

For more information about this project, please click here to request the Executive Summary.

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