CLERK OF THE CIRCUIT COURT

PROBATE COURT RECORDS

OPERATIONS AND INTERNAL CONTROLS

REPORT NO. 2000-02

DATED: APRIL 20, 2000

The Clerk of the Circuit Court

Pinellas County, Florida

The Internal Audit Division has completed an audit of Probate Court Records' operations and internal controls.

PURPOSE

The purpose of this audit was to: 1) review probate case management to evaluate compliance with laws, rules, and regulations; 2) determine the accuracy of probate information system reports; and 3) review the internal controls associated with the recording and posting of cash receipts and the disbursement of Court Registry/trust collections.

SCOPE

We reviewed applicable statutes, rules, and regulations. A statistical sample of case files that were open during the audit period of January 1, 1999, through September 30, 1999, was selected and reviewed for statutory compliance. The delinquency monitoring procedures were evaluated. Probate information system control reports were reviewed. We flowcharted the recording of cash receipts and disbursement procedures for Court Registry/trust collections. We interviewed staff and reviewed documents as necessary. We performed such other procedures as considered necessary under the circumstances.

BACKGROUND

Probate Court Records is responsible for processing estate, guardianship, and incapacity cases (mental health, alcohol, and drug). They also accept wills for deposit, notice of trusts, and caveats. As of September 20, 1999, the probate information system reported 8,543 open estates, guardianships, and incapacity cases.

Probate Court Records is responsible for reviewing guardianship plans and auditing initial and annual accountings of a ward's assets. These reports are prepared and provided by the guardian.

INTRODUCTION

The results of our review are shown below. They begin with an overall evaluation followed by detailed discussions of the findings and recommendations with management's response.

OVERALL EVALUATION

We have concluded that Probate Court Records is in compliance with applicable laws, rules, and regulations except in the area of timely audits and reviews of annual guardianship reports. The application controls for the Probate Information System are insufficient to ensure the accuracy of the reports. We found adequate internal controls associated with the recording and posting of cash receipts and the disbursement of Court Registry/trust collections.

FINDINGS, RECOMMENDATIONS, AND RESPONSES

FINDING 1 - Fees are not being recovered when wards are determined to not be indigent.

The Board of County Commissioners (Board) is required by Section 744.331, Florida Statutes to pay examining committee and attorney fees when a ward is indigent. If it is later determined that the ward is not indigent, the Board is entitled to reimbursement if a claim was filed within 90 days.

As of September 11, 1999, there was $132,219 due the Board for fees that had been paid on behalf of alleged incompetents. Forty-one of the 219 accounts that make up this balance were reviewed. All but one of the cases reviewed was filed with Probate in 1998 and 1999. We found that:

The process for approving payment of examining committee and attorney fees and the subsequent monitoring of these cases is not working effectively. There are no written procedures that cover the entire process. Controls are not preventing payments from being made where a Reversal of Indigency Order has already been issued. The process to collect payment does not provide for prompt recovery when a Reversal of Indigency Order is issued or an erroneous payment is made. The docket codes could be used to expedite this process. When the docket code ORIN (Order Reversing Indigency) is entered, the system could be set up to automatically produce a notification to the County Attorney's office that the order was issued and they can take the necessary steps to recoup fees paid.

FINDING 2 - Annual guardianship reports are not being audited within statutory requirements.

Section 744.368, Florida Statutes, requires the Clerk of the Circuit Court to review the annual report of the guardian within 30 days after the filing date. Audits of the annual accounting shall be done within 90 days after filing.

We statistically sampled 112 cases for testing from the open estate, guardianship, and incapacity cases as of September 20, 1999. Forty-four of those cases were guardianships. Of the forty-four, there were thirteen annual reports requiring review and fifteen annual accountings requiring audit within the past year. Ten of the thirteen annual reports were not reviewed within statutory guidelines; they were completed from 31 to 80 days after the date of filing. Eleven of the fifteen annual accountings were not audited within statutory time limits. Audits of the eleven annual accountings that were not done within statutory guidelines took from 94 days to 140 days to complete.

Probate Court Records has a tick system that provides a reminder for due dates on the audits and reviews. The Clerk's Audit To Court Is Due and Clerk's Review To Court Is Due reports are run the day after the due date.

FINDING 3 - Notices for delinquent documents are not being issued as required.

Section 744.368, Florida Statutes, states that the Clerk of the Circuit Court shall report to the court when a guardianship report is not filed timely. Administrative Order 89-214 states that the Clerk shall notify counsel for any guardianship or estate by Notice to Attorney when any required document has not been timely filed. Furthermore, the Clerk shall immediately notify the court in the event counsel does not timely respond to the Clerk's notice.

A random sample of 112 cases was selected from the 8,543 estate, guardianship, and incapacity cases open as of September 20, 1999. Ten percent of these cases have not had any activity in over one year. These cases should have been closed or were pending some action by one of the parties involved. Further testing of estate cases that were not being formally administered found that out of 201 open cases, seventy-seven have had no activity for over one year.

There is a report on Infopac titled Cases With Delinquent Action. It lists formally administered estates and guardianships that have not had required documents filed and previously appeared on a citation list. Review of thirty-four cases identified twenty- six that had not had any activity in over a year. The court was not always notified as required by Administrative Order 89-214 that the required documents had not been received. The Cases With Delinquent Action Report was previously used by Probate to follow up on cases with delinquent documents; however, its use had been discontinued.

FINDING 4 - Cases are not closing properly on the probate reporting system.

When an Order of Subsequent Administration, Order of Summary Administration, or Order of Disposition without Administration is issued, the case file should be closed off the probate reporting system and the state reporting system.

Out of sixty-seven cases randomly selected, eight of them had closing orders issued but the cases did not close on the probate reporting system. Additional testing was done on cases identified as not having an attorney listed on the probate docket screen. Of those 201 cases reviewed, forty-four had one of the above listed final orders issued, but the case did not close on the system. Nine cases had a wrong code docketed. There was no explanation for why the other thirty-five cases did not show up as closed.

Five cases had an unsigned order in the case file. No action had been taken to bring those cases to a conclusion.

FINDING 5 - Exceptions are not being reviewed and corrected.

Information systems use input validation to assure that all authorized transactions are completely processed once and only once. Input transactions that fail the validity checks are generally referred to as exceptions. These exceptions must be reviewed and corrected to be processed further.

We reviewed the Probate Information system to find exception reports and how exceptions are corrected. The Probate Information system receives input transaction through the Fee Accounting system's cash registers. These transactions are posted as docket entries in the cases. For example, the fee collected for family administration of an estate would generate a docket code "14PR" with a docket entry description of "Initial Probate Filing Fee Charged $130.50" in the case. The Probate Information system generates the Exception Report - Unapplied Docket Entries listing transactions with invalid case numbers. We could not ascertain that this report was reviewed or that transactions are ever corrected. There was another exception report, Unmarked Delinquent Cases, that was supposed to list any cases that were missed on the Cases With Delinquent Action report. This report was always blank during our audit period. We also could not find anyone who reviewed this report or would know how to correct an unmarked delinquent case.

FINDING 6 - Report information is not balanced.

Information systems are designed to ensure that the recording, classifying and summarizing of authorized transactions will produce accurate and complete information. The information system generates control reports to allow us to verify these results.

We reviewed the Probate Information system reports to find the control reports and examine how they were used to verify the results. The control reports tracked cases by their status, category, and assignment. The case status reflected whether the case was filed, closed, or pending. The cases were categorized by their type; as in estate, incapacity, guardian, trust, etc. The case assignments designate the judge/general master responsible for hearing the case.

We reviewed all the reports that summarized results and tried to balance them to each other for August 1999. We located several discrepancies. The Summary Of Preliminary Monthly Estate report and the Pending Probate Cases by Section report show different values for pending cases. The Pending Probate Cases by Section report and the Probate Pending Case List also had different values for pending cases. The Summary of Preliminary Monthly Estate report and the SRS Summary report show different numbers for cases disposed. The Summary of Preliminary Monthly Estate report's balance of pending cases did not reconcile to the previous month. We could not determine from our work, which reports were correct. We didn't find a coordinated review to check the accuracy of the summarized results.

Audit supervised by:

Audit performed by:

Approved:

Karleen F. De Blaker
Clerk of the Circuit Court
Ex Officio County Auditor

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