An elderly person suddenly attempting to withdraw a large sum of money and close out a savings or checking account would likely send bank officials scrambling to make sure nothing was amiss.

Part of that inquiry is now no farther away than the nearest computer, the foresight of a few individuals statewide, including Lake County Superior Court Judge Diane Kavadias Schneider.

Schneider was instrumental in helping Indiana become the first, and perhaps only, state in the nation to implement an online statewide guardianship registry.

"There's a lot of positive benefits for something like this," she said.

Guardians are appointed by courts to assist individuals with cognitive disabilities, who are unable to manage their personal and/or financial affairs, said Porter County Superior Court Magistrate Mary DeBoer.

"These protected persons are vulnerable to physical and financial exploitation, so it is particularly important to protect these protected persons and their assets from harm," she said.

The benefits of the registry (public.courts.in.gov/GRP/) are twofold, DeBoer said. It both helps the courts monitor the cases and grants limited public access to further help protect those in the care of guardians.

The public online registry provides the names of the protected person and their appointed guardian, the protected person's year of birth, whether the case is active or expired, the date the letters of guardianship were issued, the county issuing the guardianship and the case number, according to the state's guardianship website.

Easing the maintenance of guardianship cases

There are 56 of the state's 92 counties taking part in the voluntary registry, said Erica Costello, staff attorney at the Adult Guardianship Office at the Indiana Office of Court Services.

Schneider said the idea of the registry came up several years ago among herself and the other members of the Indiana Adult Guardianship State Task Force.

It was clear the courts did not have the resources to stay current with each guardianship case, she said.

DeBoer said she and Porter County Magistrate Katherine Forbes are responsible for overseeing about 1,800 guardianship cases, in addition to handling all the county's divorce and estate/trust cases.

Maintenance of the guardianship cases includes making sure the initial inventory of relevant details is filed within the first 90 days, followed by an accounting of financial issues every two years thereafter, she said.

"The court reviews these filings to ascertain the assets of the protected person at the beginning of the guardianship, and to ensure the guardian is not squandering the protected person's funds but is using the funds appropriately," DeBoer said.

LaPorte County does not take part in the online registry, having just got on board this past summer with electronic court filings, said Amber Poff, executive director and staff attorney for Indiana Guardianship Services.

Her agency is among several groups across the state that provide volunteer guardians where needed, she said.

Public access limited, but helpful 

The creation of the statewide registry began in earnest in January 2013 when Schneider and others were provided with grant money for its development, according to a state fact sheet. The system was tested with a few small counties the following year and became available to all thereafter.

Lake County joined the registry on Jan. 1, 2016, and was followed a year later by Porter County. Both counties report adding new cases as they are filed and doing the best they can to get older, existing cases into the system.

DeBoer logged into the system from her office on the third floor of the courthouse in Valparaiso and showed how she is notified when maintenance is required on a case.

The guardians are supposed to keep up with reports and other filings, but life becomes busy, and it is easy for them to forget about the deadlines, she said. Most of the missed deadlines are simple oversights, she added.

The public portion of the registry offers access to less information, but enough to be helpful to banks, hospitals, police and others, said Kathryn Dolan, chief public information officer with the Indiana Supreme Court.

She knew of no other state with a statewide guardianship registry.

Public access to the registry is helpful in all sorts of situations, such as police coming across someone wandering the streets who appears to be in need, Schneider said. Police could search a name and see if there is someone appointed to handle the person's needs.

The registry also helps the courts keep track of statistics related to their guardianship cases, DeBoer said.

The tool comes just in time. DeBoer predicts the number of guardianship cases will steadily increase as baby boomers age.

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Porter/LaPorte county reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.