MACOMB COUNTY, MI – A guardianship company will dissolve after its owner illegally charged an elderly couple $400,000 for services from companies she and her husband own.
The “self-dealing” case that shows a court-appointed guardian was financially benefiting by hiring her own companies to provide services and charging a “shocking amount of money” was settled out of court by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. Financial aspects of the settlement have not been released but the injunctive aspects are detailed in a news release from the AG’s office.
Guardianship company Caring Hearts Michigan Inc. will immediately cease operations and legally dissolve by the end of the year, the release said. In addition, [the owner and] her employees are permanently barred from operating any other guardianship or conservatorship entity.
Of particular concern in this case was a web of connections between [the] guardianship company and two other companies [the owner] hired to provide services to elderly people she had guardianship over.
“Our involvement in this case revealed what we feared: fiduciaries with a clear financial conflict of interest who billed a shocking amount of money in a relatively short period of time,” Nessel said.
Caring Hearts was appointed by Macomb County Probate Judge Kathryn George as both guardian and conservator for Robert Lee Mitchell and Barbara Delbridge, despite a petition submitted by the daughter and stepdaughter of the couple.
In a span of six months, Caring Hearts Michigan; Executive Care, a 24-hour in-home care company, also owned by [the owner of Caring Hearts Michigan]; and [a] law firm billed the elderly couple $400,000. Almost 72 percent of the bills were for Executive Care.
The Estates and Protected Individuals Code prohibits this kind of financial self-dealing by the guardian, Nessel said. In addition, courts are not permitted to appoint a guardian agency that financially benefits from directly providing housing, medical, mental health or social services to the legally incapacitated individual, she said.
Nessel places responsibility on the courts to ensure that the state’s guardianship system is protecting the vulnerable and that court-appointed guardians and conservators fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities to those in their custody.
“To help, my team continues to look for similar instances of self-dealing and we will take swift action when it is discovered,” Nessel said.
Complaints about professional guardian or conservator entities who are engaging in similar self-dealing can be filed online with the Attorney General’s office.