Colorado's probate courts have not followed laws enacted to protect vulnerable adults and children from abuse by guardians and conservators, state auditors reported.
They reported that in one case, a probate court failed to contact a guardian for 10 years about the ward he was appointed to protect. In another, the court learned that a protected person had died in 2003 only when auditors called to ask about the absence of financial reports.
In a random sample of 55 cases, state auditors also found a conservator who spent 423 percent of the amount estimated in the financial plan for the protected person and another who spent nearly $1,000 at retail stores, documenting the purchases only in a line on a bank statement.
And in a section detailing the courts' occasional failure to obtain background checks before appointing guardians and conservators, the auditors noted that in one Colorado case, "a professional conservator stole more than $2 million from the ward's estate." Their report did not name the conservator. This audit, like other state audits, provided details about individual cases but no names.
"Overall, we found that the courts' processes do not ensure that the rights, welfare and assets of wards are adequately protected," the auditors reported.
Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Bender, who represented the judicial branch as the report was presented to Colorado's Legislative Audit Committee, told legislators he is "severely, substantially concerned" about the reported problems — and will make sure they are addressed.
"We understand the problem," he said, "and we're going to make it a priority."
This is not the first time that state auditors have found Colorado's probate courts failed to monitor guardians and conservators. They reached a similar conclusion in a 2006 audit.
Last year, The Denver Post reported in a series of stories that Denver's probate-court files included protected wards who had been dead for years and guardians who had not been contacted for five years or more.
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Colorado Probate Courts Fail to Protect Those at Risk, Audit Finds