Volunteers keep watch over court-appointed guardians

EVERETT — Robert Bibb retired from the Snohomish Superior Court bench two decades ago, but he keeps coming back to the courthouse.

Since 2000, Bibb, 89, has volunteered to monitor guardians appointed to oversee legal and financial matters for people who are too sick, frail or confused to handle their affairs alone.

Bibb and about 12 other volunteers review reports, including determining whether guardians are providing an accounting of how money is being spent to support their wards.

The volunteers also field a lot of questions by guardians, often family members, who have taken on the responsibility of caring for a loved one’s financial and legal matters.

“We basically police guardianships,” Bibb said. “We make sure reports required by law are filed when they’re supposed to and the proper forms are filled out. We also look over the reports for any suspicious things that might be detected by reviewing them.”

The county’s Guardianship Monitoring Program grew out of a long-standing national effort by the AARP to provide oversight to guardianships, often involving the elderly.

The organization provided a $5,000 grant in 2000 to kick start the program in Snohomish County.

Volunteers were recruited through Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Snohomish County, which matches people 55 and older with volunteer opportunities.

The county’s guardianship program has evolved over the years, Bibb said. The volunteers used to do home visits to see that people were receiving proper care. Those responsibilities have shifted over to state social workers.

In the early stages, the volunteers determined that many guardianships had been terminated, either because the ward or the guardian had died. The volunteers monitor about 2,200 guardianships.

Since cleaning up the books, Bibb has noticed that more guardians are using the program voluntarily, asking volunteers to review their work and answer their questions.

“We initially thought we’d be out there chasing them down like criminals,” Bibb said. “We have not encountered very many truly bad cases.”

A new law also now requires all guardians to compete online training. The volunteers have been helping people get the training, said Al Setzer, a retired naval officer and college professor who has volunteered with the program since the beginning.

The primary goal is to work with the guardians for the benefit of their wards, Setzer said.

Bibb has been instrumental in creating more user-friendly forms and educating guardians about what they need to do to meet their legal obligations, Setzer added.

Bibb works once a week in the office, located on the first floor of the Snohomish County Courthouse. With his legal background, he is in charge of reviewing all the volunteers’ work. He also recruited another retired judge, Richard Thorpe to work in the office once a week.

So why does Bibb, who will turn 90 in July, keep coming back to the courthouse?

“You’ve got to do something,” he said.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

How to help

If you are interested in volunteering with the county’s Guardianship Monitoring Program, call 425-388-3284.

The office is open from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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