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Award-winning investigative journalist Gretchen Rachel Hammond spent the past 13 months independently investigating a systemic problem at the Oakland County Probate Court, which has allegedly been shielded by the highest levels of Michigan government for the past 30-some years.
The guardianship system isn’t new; in fact, it’s rooted in medieval English law. Every US state still uses some form of the system, which, at its best, is designed to protect citizens who are no longer able to protect themselves by declaring them wards of the state. We know, of course, that the system is rarely at its best, with increasing reports of abuse cropping up nationwide, prompting Congressional calls for reform.
But the level of controversy over how guardianship cases are handled in one Detroit-area probate courtroom has reached such heights, the story reads more like Orwellian fiction than it does a model of the American experience.
An unsettling number of accusations have been leveraged against the court, citing abuse, neglect, robbery, and exploitation, often in cases that arguably didn’t merit guardianship in the first place. In as little as a year, “incapacitated wards” are stripped of the entirety of their savings and possessions and rendered completely reliant upon social services and benefits such as Medicaid. Even high-profile families, including the estates of Rosa Parks and Aretha Franklin, have been drawn into the quagmire.
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