Saturday, April 8, 2023

Frustrations grow as Michigan’s busiest probate court still largely closed to public

Chief Judge says virtual court saves time and money

By: Heather Catallo

(WXYZ) — The COVID-19 pandemic brought so many unprecedented closures and changes, including to parts of the court system. Many of the courts in Michigan started reopening in late 2020 or 2021. But one very busy court is still largely closed to the public when it comes to filing important paperwork and that has some people upset.

Nobody really wants to go to probate court, but it’s the place you have to go in emergencies, such as after a loved one dies or when you need to make life or death decisions about a relative who becomes incapacitated.

Right now, the state’s busiest probate court is still restricting some access for the public.

Critics say the Wayne County Probate Court should fully reopen, but the chief judge says operating mostly on Zoom is saving time and money. He also says the old way of doing business left disabled and elderly people stuck downtown for hours on end – and now he wants other courts to follow their lead.
But Linda Peters says she nearly lost guardianship of her brother because of a paperwork mix up at the court that she couldn’t resolve in person.

“He is really vulnerable,” said Peters.

This mom from Woodhaven has been her brother’s legal guardian for 15 years. Peters says John has mental health challenges and a disability.

“I'm there. I pay his rent. I do everything for him,” said Peters.

Every year, Peters has renewed her guardianship of John without a problem. In November, she mailed her annual account to the Wayne County Probate Court – just like she does every year.

But Linda says later she got a notice in the mail that the court never received the records. So, she mailed the documents again. That didn’t seem to help either.

“The new thing that I got the other day says that my guardianship has been suspended,” said Peters.

Peters says she tried calling and emailing the Wayne County Probate Court, but nothing worked.

“All you get is a recording, and you can't leave a message. And the email I had was invalid, so I'm kind of stuck,” said Peters.

Because the court’s website states no in-person filings are accepted, Linda says she didn’t know what to do.

The court’s website also stated the court will “only accept pleadings and documents for filing Monday through Friday, 8:00am to 4:00pm...” and “all emails and faxes received outside of these filing hours will automatically be deleted.”

“We weren't deleting filings. We might be guilty of poor sentence structure,” said Wayne County Chief Probate Judge Freddie Burton Jr.

Judge Burton says he did not realize the probate court’s website said they were deleting documents until the 7 Investigators pointed it out. Burton says that language has now been removed.

“We wiped it out and we're simply saying 8 am to 4 pm. You can still mail it in, you can email it in, you can fax it in. We're going to get it,” said Judge Burton.

Judge Burton says Wayne County has received a record number of probate filings since the start of the pandemic. He says in 2022, the court received 103,000 filings and they only have 14 staffers available to handle that.

“It's like we were digging in quicksand, and we just kept sinking deeper and deeper. So, we had to finally make a change,” Judge Burton told 7 Investigator Heather Catallo.

Unlike the probate counters in Macomb County and Oakland County that fully reopened months ago, the lines are gone and the seats are empty in Wayne County.

“The other way didn't work for this court. We're the largest probate court in the state. We have minimum resources. This works,” said Judge Burton about the virtual courtrooms he’s established.

Burton says he’s keeping the court mostly virtual because it saves families and taxpayers time and money. Almost all hearings are now held on Zoom.

“You come downtown with an elderly parent. You come downtown with a person who is developmentally disabled. You come downtown with a person who has mental health issues that need to be addressed. They're dragged into this building to have a chance to sit outside for hours on end. That's not appropriate. That's not acceptable. And that's not what we want,” said Judge Burton.

Last week alone, the staff reported a COVID-19 outbreak, reducing staffing by half. The court sent this graphic to illustrate how a bout of illness can drastically impact their operational levels:

In response to complaints from families who say they can’t get through on the phone, Judge Burton tells us he recently asked staff attorneys to start taking and returning calls. He’s also asking staff to work overtime to keep up with the workload.

The judge says he’s also going to have a staff member sitting at the elevators on the 13th floor to help those who do come down to the court in person, and says emergencies can be handled on the spot.

They’re also providing tip sheets and even YouTubevideos on how to fill out forms, reducing the need to ask questions at the counter.

Meanwhile, Linda Peters was finally able to get through on the phone, and her fiduciary powers for her brother’s guardianship have now been restored. But she says the whole experience made her realize, Wayne County needs to do a better job funding the court so they can have more staff to handle these life-altering cases.

“Wayne County taxes are high. Let's get some money to the courts so you can pay these clerks a little bit that have to do the mindful jobs of the paperwork like this to make sure that somebody doesn't lose their guardianship,” said Peters.

Again, Wayne County really wants all filings to be faxed, emailed or mailed, but the court does also have a drop box where you can leave paperwork on-site.

The chief judge says if you don’t want your hearing to be on Zoom, you can always request an in-person hearing and they will accommodate that.

Full Article & Source:
Frustrations grow as Michigan’s busiest probate court still largely closed to public

Arizona Debates Bill On Guardianship For Developmentally Disabled Kids Who Turn 18

The state Senate legislation, which has been amended in the past few weeks, has a new commitment from lawmakers after talks with disability rights groups.

By Shruti Rajkumar

Arizona lawmakers plan to push for changes to a new bill that would educate parents of developmentally disabled children on guardianship options for when their kids turn 18, including less-restrictive alternatives, such as supported decision-making for the young adult, instead of full control.

The move follows talks with disability rights organizations and weeks of revisions to SB1411, which initially stated that a developmentally disabled child who receives services through the state’s Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) would immediately and automatically be placed in the guardianship of their parent once they turn 18.

Currently in Arizona, parents instead automatically lose guardianship over their child when they reach 18. The parent would have to petition a family law court to regain guardianship at that point. Guardianship or conservatorships over disabled adults can only be granted by a court if, after the process of interviews and examinations, the court finds the adult to be incapacitated or “unable to make reasoned decisions.”

Sen. Justine Wadsack, the Republican who introduced SB1411 last month, said that the legal process for gaining guardianship is long and costly. Wadsack, who has been open in Senate meetings about her experience as a parent of a disabled child, said that her legislation was meant to make it easier for parents to retain guardianship.

Several disability rights organizations spoke out against this initial version of the legislation. The Arizona Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) said in a statement that SB1411 was a “flawed and problematic piece of legislation that undermines the principles of autonomy, agency, and individual choice.”

“By automatically granting guardianship to the primary caregiver of a minor child upon the child’s eighteenth birthday, this bill denies individuals the right to make their own decisions and exercise their own free will,” the organization wrote in the statement.

A group of 19 organizations wrote a letter last month to the state Senate Judiciary Committee stating that the legislation has significant legal implications for disabled people. They added that the bill denies disabled people due process, and presumes that a disabled person is incapacitated. Under Arizona law, a developmentally disabled person is legally competent unless a court determines otherwise through the guardianship process.

Advocates for the disability community pointed out in the letter that guardianships of people with developmental disabilities may be a necessity for some families and that improvements to the guardianship system are needed in the state.

“The vast majority of people with disabilities are perfectly capable of making their own decisions about their finances and where they live and who they marry. And for the people who do need assistance, often they need much less than a full guardianship,” Kramer said.

“For those that do require a guardianship,” she added, “that’s fine, but the reason why there was such a furious reaction to this [SB1411] is because it’s such a big deal. Once you get in these things, it’s hard to get out.”

Wadsack and other lawmakers, in response to the strong opposition, crafted amendments to the bill. It passed the Senate on Monday with amendments that omitted language about immediate and automatic guardianships, a stark contrast to the original version. 

The amended version states that if the child is able to express their preference in guardianship, their request will be given priority, and the parent and child must decide together to what extent the parent will be involved as a guardian. The amendment states that DDD can provide forms for the parents and child that the agency will use to grant guardianship without the family having to go through the court system.

“It’s time to put the onus of the process in the hands of the one state agency intimately involved in the parents’ and children’s lives, DDD,” Wadsack said in a statement, noting that with the current system, many parents are not notified in a timely manner that they will lose guardianship when their child turns 18.

But the amended bill that passed in the Senate still drew opposition. Wadsack and other Republicans invited a group of disability rights organizations and allies to a meeting Tuesday to talk more about the legislation and the concerns about guardianships.

Meaghan Kramer, managing attorney at the Arizona Center for Disability Law, who attended the meeting, said people were concerned that the legislation would grant DDD the power to award guardianships and deny disabled people due process when it comes to determining guardianship, which would otherwise be provided in the court system.

“I think that the entire disability community seems to be united in this. Our position is due process is critical and that if you’re going to lose rights, like the right to vote, the right to marry... whatever it is, you ought to have a hearing,” she told HuffPost.

Kramer said that the system should work so that parents and their child don’t require a lawyer to navigate these proceedings but that they should include a court hearing that gives fair weight to the rights, wishes and needs of the disabled person.

“If you meet the standard, and the court thinks that you’re the best person to be the guardian, then that should be something you can navigate without a lawyer, that shouldn’t be super adversarial. But it should be due process,” she said.

She added: “Certainly there are some people who we can categorize and say ‘These people wouldn’t need a hearing; all they need is a form.’ [But] when we start making generalizations like that, it just gets too dicey. Due process is not that high a standard when you have an obvious case… it’s just a protection for the people with disabilities.”

Kramer said that Wadsack seemed to come into the meeting between the organizations and lawmakers with a “very open mind” and “good intentions.” The conversation felt productive, Kramer added, and led to a potential solution that could fix the flaws of the guardianship system.

Kramer said Wadsack agreed to “strike” the versions of the legislation on the floor of the House so that the presumption that someone needs a guardian if they are a developmentally disabled adult is eliminated from the bill.

Kramer said that she and others now anticipate that Wadsack and other lawmakers will push for the bill to instead focus on ensuring that when a developmentally disabled child is close to 18, DDD will work with families to explore their options based on the child’s needs, such as supported decision-making (when a person with disabilities chooses their own network of advisers) or limited guardianships (in which the ward retain some rights), as well as resources and organizations that can assist in the process.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that that’s the direction it’ll go. That’s the commitment we have from the senator. I’m pretty sure that’s what’s going to happen, and there shouldn’t be any reason why it doesn’t. I think it’s much more likely that the bill just dies somewhere than she changes her mind,” Kramer said.

Wadsack’s office did not respond to HuffPost’s request to comment on this commitment.

Across the U.S., there has been a push to move away from and eventually end guardianships, which often don’t focus on what a disabled person wants and instead impose what others consider to be best for the individual. Guardianships also expose disabled people to abuse and neglect, Kramer said, pointing to Britney Spears’ former conservatorship as an example and emphasizing the importance of due process in these guardianship proceedings.

The National Center on Law and Elder Rights found that almost all states require that courts grant guardianships only as a last resort and should first consider less-restrictive alternatives. But a report by the Center for American Progress (CAP) showed that in Virginia, an average of 96% of guardianships granted from 2015 to 2021 were full guardianships.

CAP found that 1.3 million disabled people in the U.S. are under guardianships or conservatorships and that more than 90% of them remove all decision-making rights, leaving the ward little to no control over their finances, reproductive health, medical care and other aspects of their lives. 

Many advocates for the disabled have been pushing for supported decision-making, which allows the disabled person “to decide their goals, the people in their life they trust and who they can go to for advice on certain topics,” according to CAP.

Advocates want states to fund models for supported decision-making, which a Human Service Research Institute study said can greatly increase self-esteem, self-advocacy, independence and happiness.

Full Article & Source:
Arizona Debates Bill On Guardianship For Developmentally Disabled Kids Who Turn 18

Bills to reform guardianship system sent to Youngkin

By Madison Hirneisen

(The Center Square) – For the tens of thousands of Virginians whose guardianship case is served by a private guardian, existing law dictating how often their guardian is required to visit them is vague. 

A bill that passed the General Assembly on a bipartisan basis this session aims to change that. 

As of fiscal year 2020, 12,000 people were under guardianship in Virginia. When someone is placed under a guardianship or conservatorship by a court, some or all of their rights are legally removed and another individual – such as a family member, friend, professional guardian or attorney – controls their affairs.

The majority of adults under guardianship in Virginia are served by private guardians, who do not have any specific standards on how often they must visit the incapacitated adult under guardianship. Existing law simply states guardians “shall visit the incapacitated person as often as necessary.” 

That could soon change if legislation brought forth this session by Del. Danica Roem, D-Manassas Park, is signed into law. 

Roem’s bill states that a guardian must visit the “incapacitated person” under guardianship at least three times per year, with at least one visit occurring every 120 days. The measure specifies one of the visits must be in person, another visit can be conducted through a virtual call and the third can be conducted over video conference by someone other than the guardian, a family member, friend or skilled professional retained by the guardian to perform guardianship duties. 

The bill did not have any budgetary implications, according to a fiscal impact statement from the Department of Planning and Budget. 

In an interview with The Center Square, Roem described the legislation that passed to the governor as a “genuine compromise,” noting the bill took several forms as it wove through the legislature when stakeholder groups, including hospital associations and private guardians, weighed in. 

In the original version of the bill, Roem proposed four visits per year at least every 90 days, with at least two of the visits conducted in person. That requirement was met with pushback from some stakeholders, who wanted the bill to require two visits per year. Three visits ended up being the compromise, according to Roem. 

“We compromised on the compromise on the compromise,” Roem said, adding that despite these compromises, lawmakers in the General Assembly understood that “the current system is broken.” 

“The General Assembly understood fundamentally, Democrats and Republicans alike this year, that the current system is fundamentally flawed and is not sustainable as it is,” Roem said. “We have to do something because when we don't do something, people die. That's not hyperbole, that's not me flapping my gums or anything – that's real life. When the guardianship system fails, people get hurt, people die. Incapacitated adults are the single most vulnerable people in American society.” 

Roem’s bill was inspired by recommendations in a 2021 Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission report, which outlined ways to improve Virginia’s adult guardianship and conservator system. The report came after an investigative series by the Richmond Times-Dispatch revealed failures in the state’s guardianship system that left individuals unprotected. 

The JLARC report found the majority of guardianships in the state are private guardianships, meaning a family, friend or attorney is appointed to serve as guardian. Of the 12,000 adults under guardianship, the vast majority – about 11,000 – are served by a private guardian, according to the JLARC report. 

Unlike public guardians – who are required to visit individuals under their guardianship each month – private guardians are not subject to any visitation or training requirements and do not have set limits on caseloads, JLARC found. 

“What you end up with is guardians, often those with a really large caseload – a lot of people under their guardianship – make few or no visits to the adults they serve,” Joe McMahon, a chief legislative analyst at JLARC, told The Center Square. “They basically have them in assisted living or a nursing home, and that's that. But what we found was visitation is a really important element to ensure the guardian is providing adequate service.” 

McMahon said through visitation, guardian’s can check on an individual’s condition, understand whether the current arrangement is meeting their needs, talk with caretakers, get to know the adult’s preferences and wants, and in some cases, “get a better sense of whether that person's condition is progressing to a point where their rights could be restored.” 

“A key part of being a good guardian is incorporating the adult into the decision making process as much as possible,” McMahon wrote in an email. 

A look at other reform bills sent to the governor

Roem’s bill, HB 2028, was among several measures surrounding guardianship reform sent by the General Assembly to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk. The delegate also authored HB 2027, which outlines clearer guidance on setting visitation restrictions. 

Under HB 2027, guardians cannot restrict an incapacitated person’s ability to communicate with people they have a relationship with – like friends or family – unless the restriction would “prevent physical, mental, or emotional harm to or financial exploitation of such incapacitated person.”

The measure addresses three recommendations in the JLARC report, which stem from a finding in the report that states “guardians have too much discretion to restrict contact with adults under their guardianship.” 

Current law directs guardians to not “unreasonably restrict” any communication, visitation or interaction between friends and family – a standard the JLARC report labeled as “overly broad” and “vague.” The JLARC report concluded the existing standard “enables guardians to unjustifiably restrict contact between an adult and their family members or other individuals who may be able to contribute to the adult’s care and well-being.” 

McMahon, from JLARC, said HB 2027 “better defines” when guardians can set visitation restrictions and sets up a process to do so. 

Another bill advanced this legislative session, Senate Bill 987, would require courts starting this July to set a schedule for periodic review hearings, specifying that a review hearing should be conducted one year after guardian appointment and once every three years thereafter. 

The bill also specifies any periodic review hearings should include certain assessments by the court, including: the likelihood the condition of the person under a guardianship will improve, whether concerns about the “suitability” of the person appointed guardian were raised at the time of appointment, and whether the appointment of the guardian was contested by the respondent or another party. 

JLARC staff found that as it currently stands, a guardianship appointment tends to be a lifetime appointment even though the conditions of an adult under guardianship can change over time. McMahon said JLARC staff found that one of the best ways to improve oversight and accountability for guardians was to have the guardianship case go before a court periodically.  

The General Assembly also passed a pair of identical bills that will make it easier for a guardian ad litem – a court-appointed investigator that acts as a key source of information judges use to make decisions on guardianship – to obtain reports that would be relevant to a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding. The bills specify that any health care providers, local school divisions, department of social services, financial institutions and a criminal justice agency would be required to provide records to a guardian ad litem when requested. 

Youngkin has an action deadline of next Monday to act on each of these bills advanced by the General Assembly. 

Future action on the horizon 

While the General Assembly made progress this year on several recommendations contained in the JLARC report, roughly a dozen recommendations directed to the General Assembly remain. 

McMahon said the legislation brought forth and passed this year “was a big step forward towards addressing some of the findings or recommendations from that report.” 

Roem echoed a similar sentiment, saying this legislative session marked “the single most consequential year we've had for guardianship reform in Virginia in a very long time.” The delegate, who is running to represent Senate District 30 on the ballot this fall, added that she’s not finished yet. 

“There's no way I'm going to step away from guardianship reform as one of my main topics,” Roem said. “It's too important of an issue to just like, be happy with a couple, you know big changes, but just a handful of changes.” 

Roem did not commit to a particular bill she would introduce next session, but said it’s “highly likely” she will be revisiting legislation pertaining to training for guardians. A bill introduced in the House by Roem this session and a companion measure introduced by Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, would have directed the Department of Aging and Rehabilitation Services to develop training for court-appointed guardians by July 1, 2024. 

The measure was estimated to cost $160,000 in fiscal year 2024 and $122,000 annually thereafter. Both the House and Senate versions of the bill were ultimately tabled in the House Appropriations committee.

Full Article & Source:
Bills to reform guardianship system sent to Youngkin

Senators Want ‘Guardianship Bill Of Rights’

by Michelle Diament

Supporters of Britney Spears rally as a hearing on the pop singer's conservatorship case takes place at a courthouse in Los Angeles in June 2021. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

New efforts are underway on Capitol Hill to address inconsistencies in guardianship across the nation and promote alternatives for people with disabilities who need assistance managing their affairs.

A bill introduced this week in the U.S. Senate would establish a national council tasked with identifying best practices for helping individuals avoid or leave guardianships and how to modify such arrangements.

The council would also be tasked with collecting data on guardianships at the state and national level and interrupting what’s known as the “guardianship pipeline” whereby health and education professionals often recommend that families of youth with disabilities pursue guardianship. In addition, the bill would include funding for state protection and advocacy agencies to help those being considered for or living under guardianships.

There are an estimated 1.3 million adults nationwide under guardianship. In such cases, a court has determined that these individuals need someone else to make financial, health or other types of decisions for them.

“While guardianship is intended to be protective for older adults and people with disabilities, it can also lead to the loss of rights, fraud, exploitation and abuse,” reads a fact sheet from Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who introduced the bill known as the Guardianship Bill of Rights Act along with Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa.

Casey cited recent news reports detailing guardianship abuses in Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada and in the New York City area all within the last two months. He also referenced the case of pop star Britney Spears who spent more than a decade under a court-ordered conservatorship during which time she said she was forced to work, medicated and prevented from trying to have a baby.

“More than a year after Britney Spears’ case brought guardianships into the national spotlight, there are still countless families across the nation fighting against exploitative or abusive guardianships with little recourse,” Casey said. “My legislation would address the nation’s patchwork guardianship system and explore alternatives to guardianships to protect Americans’ civil rights while getting them the support they need.”

Full Article & Source:
Senators Want ‘Guardianship Bill Of Rights’

Frequently Asked Legal Questions

  • Do I need a Will?  If you do not have a Will, the laws of the State of Colorado determine who is entitled to your assets and they determine who has priority to be your personal representative (executor).

  • How long is my Will good for?  Wills do not expire.  Unless you change or revoke a Will it remains in effect until you die.  Therefore, if your wishes change you must update your Will.

  • Can I write my own Will?  Pursuant to Colorado Law, you may write your own Will.  It will be valid if it is signed by you and if all the material provisions of the document are in your handwriting.  There may be many problems with writing your own Will, because it may not be clear and it may not include all of the provisions that a Will should contain.
  • Do I need to go through probate?  In Colorado, if you own any interest in real estate (a home), or if you own other assets which are valued at more than $80,000 your estate must be probated, whether you have a Will or not. 
  • What is probate?  Probate is a court process whereby the court appoints a personal representative to administer your estate.  Probate is a process that includes filing an inventory of the estate assets, publishing a notice to creditors in a newspaper, accounting for estate income and expenses and disbursing the estate.
  • What documents are included in a good estate plan?  A person should have a Last Will and Testament or a Revocable Living Trust, a health care power of attorney, a general durable power of attorney and a living will.
  • I am the agent under a power of attorney, isn’t that all I need to take care of things?  A power of attorney will no longer be valid after the death of the principal.  In addition, it may not be valid once the principal becomes incapacitated unless it has the right language.  You must examine your power of attorney to see what powers it includes and under what conditions the agent may act. 
  • What is a trust?  There are many types of trust.  A trust is generally a document which establishes an arrangement whereby property is transferred to a trust with the intention that it be administered by a trustee for someone’s benefit.  A trust may be established for your own benefit.  The biggest advantage for setting up a trust for your own benefit is to avoid probate. 
Tamra K. Waltemath
Tamra K. Waltemath

This article was written by Tamra K Waltemath of Tamra K. Waltemath, P.C.  This information is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  For specific questions, you should consult a qualified attorney. Tamra K. Waltemath is an elder law attorney focusing on wills, trusts, estate and trust administration, probate and non-probate transfers, guardianships and conservatorships. 


Full Article & Source:
Frequently Asked Legal Questions

Friday, April 7, 2023

Lawmakers and activists renew fight for guardianship reform

by Anna Liz Nichols

Southfield — Family members who say their loved ones were victimized by predatory guardians in Michigan called for justice Tuesday at a news conference alongside state senators who are seeking to reform the system.

Sisters Chandra Drayton and Olivia McDavid drove from Tennessee to talk about their mother, Ernestine Drayton, who they said was put under a stranger's guardianship in Michigan behind closed doors in 2018.

"It felt like there was a ghost that all of a sudden dropped into our lives and decided the wanted to take our mother from us for no apparent reason," Chandra Drayton said.

Drayton said her mother died just weeks after a judge put her under the care of a guardian with no family members present. She said the guardian changed her mother's end-of-life advance directives to include a do-not-resuscitate order.

"She wasn't even 60 years old," Drayton said. "This is a woman that loved to cook, loved her grandkids. ... My mom was such a strong person."

Several other individuals told stories about relatives' care being usurped and pleaded for the public to recognize that a similar situation could affect anyone's family.

In Michigan, conservators and guardians can be appointed by a judge to manage the property and welfare of those deemed to be incapacitated to act in their own best interest. However, an 18-month Detroit News investigation published in March found evidence that the system, which has little oversight, has failed at offering protections for wards, their property and their families.

At the news conference, GOP state Sens. Ruth Johnson of Holly and Jim Runestad of White Lake detailed their effort to reintroduce bills that stalled and died in the Legislature in 2022. The bills aim to put checks and balances on a system they say has allowed abusive individuals to make money selling off wards' assets and alienating them from family members and proper care.

The bills will incorporate recommendations from the Michigan Attorney General's Elder Abuse Taskforce and address issues raised in The News' investigation, Johnson said.

"I think if these people that are exploiting others taking advantage of stealing their money, stealing their souls, if they can get away with it, they'll continue to," Johnson said. "We have a system that is broken. ... We need accountability. We need transparency. We need to protect our most vulnerable."

The legislation would require courts to have a physician or mental health professional assess a person before a guardian can be appointed and would require a judge's rationale for appointing a professional guardian rather than a family member.

Hearings to appoint guardians or conservators would also have to be recorded by courts and be made available to the public, under the legislation.

The legislation would create requirements for certification for guardians and put limits on the number of wards under an individual guardian's care.

With the proposed certification process, the legislation would ban individuals removed as public administrators by the Attorney General's Office from being appointed as professional guardians or conservators.

At the news conference, families said the reform legislation is critical to helping others avoid what they went through.

After her mother suffered a fall, Christine Abood said she went to an Oakland County courthouse to secure guardianship of her mother, Gloria Sullivan, in 2016, but was advised by an attorney that the judge "never gives guardianship to family."

"The judge did not allow me to speak. It took five minutes. My mother was not allowed to come. They said they didn't want to disturb her," Abood said, recounting the hearing that made a stranger the guardian of her mother.

Abood said her family was allowed supervised visitation with her mother only two times a month as the court-appointed guardian limited her family's ability to visit and call.

"They knew they were doing wrong, and they just would laugh about it, and it was just disgusting," Abood said

Drayton said the laws may not change in time to have an impact on her family, "but there's thousands of more victims and people out here that (are) going through it."

Full Article & Source:
Lawmakers and activists renew fight for guardianship reform

No Excuse for Abuse in Detroit Nursing Homes

by Peter Charles

Detroit, MI – Over the past 10 years, the state of Michigan has enacted 15 laws meant to prevent elderly abuse, especially in a nursing home environment. No Excuse for Abuse campaigns were launched in various areas of the state. Health authorities have released special vulnerable adult protocols. While all these initiatives have helped raise awareness of the problem, much remains to be done. And it falls on you to do everything you can to protect a loved one in a nursing home. You need to familiarize yourself with basic notions about nursing home abuse, and you must consult with trusted lawyers if you suspect a loved one is mistreated in their nursing home.

How is nursing home abuse defined in Michigan?

Michigan laws describe three types of nursing home mistreatment:


Neglect refers to those situations when a nursing home resident does not receive adequate food, care, living conditions, and medical assistance. The most common cause of neglect is a lack of personnel. Signs of neglect include unexplained weight loss, dehydration, frequent falls, bedsores or infections.


Elderly woman in glasses wiping eye with tissue;
image by Jeremy Wong, via
Nursing home abuse can be of three types – physical, emotional, and sexual. You must visit your relatives often and watch out for any signs of abuse, including bruises, lacerations, sudden behavioral changes, depression, panic attacks, or STDs.

Skilled Detroit nursing home abuse lawyers will explain how to document the abuse.


This refers to financial exploitation. You may want to keep an eye on your loved one’s finances. If you notice unusual transactions, large ATM withdrawals, or property transfers, alert the police right away. 

How do I report nursing home abuse in Michigan?

First of all, you need to assess how dangerous the situation is. If your loved one is in immediate physical danger, you must call the police and move the resident to a safe place. This refers to assault and battery cases, but also severe medical issues. For instance, if your loved one appears malnourished and presents signs of dehydration, you must take him or her to a hospital. Their life may be in danger.

Seek urgent counsel from Michigan nursing home abuse lawyers. They will help you file an official complaint. Don’t get your hopes up high, though. Health authorities are notoriously slow to respond and, many times, no charges are filed.

However, this should not deter you from seeking justice. Your nursing home abuse lawyers will gather all the evidence needed to sue the nursing home and seek damages. 

How much time do I have to sue a nursing home?

In Michigan, the statute of limitations for this type of lawsuit is two years from the date the injury occurred. This can be tricky as in many cases it’s hard to pinpoint a date. If your loved one was neglected over a long period, the statute of limitations runs from the moment you discovered the injury. If the resident dies as a result of their injuries, the clock starts ticking from the date of their death.

Two years may seem like a lot of time, but you should act as soon as possible. There’s a lot to be done. As an example, if the resident was injured due to a medical error or developed a condition triggered by the abuse they experienced, you will have to talk to medical malpractice lawyers. 

In Michigan, you must obtain an affidavit saying that your claim has merit before you can file a medical malpractice lawsuit.  

Full Article & Source:
No Excuse for Abuse in Detroit Nursing Homes

Lawmakers highlight abuse in guardian system amid bill re-introduction

By Colin Jackson

Senator Ruth Johnson

Michigan lawmakers are re-introducing bi-partisan legislation to provide more checks on the state’s court-appointed guardian and conservatorship system.

Package sponsors say the bills would tighten requirements placed on guardians ad litem. They would also further involve medical professionals in the process of determining whether an adult is considered “incapacitated.”

Supporters worry the law as it stands doesn’t do enough to prevent people from scamming the system and taking control of someone’s life.

Chandra Drayton and her sister, Olivia McDavid, spoke of their own experience with their mother’s guardian during a press conference in Southfield Tuesday.

Drayton said a stranger managed to become her mother’s guardian after her mother was admitted to a hospital for breathing troubles.

She said her mother stopped getting the care she needed after that point.

“They say, ‘Well, you know things happened, we’re sorry.' Sorry don't get it. But that changed her whole quality of life,” Drayton said.

She alleged once her mother started experiencing seizures, the guardian changed her directives to “do not resuscitate” at the hospital, against Drayton’s wishes.

Senator Ruth Johnson (R-Holly) said the current system leaves too much room for people to take advantage of older adults and their families.

“You don’t even get to go to the court sometimes and somebody deems you incapacitated, needing a guardian. By whose authority? Who’s the professional involved? Is it people that are going to be able to benefit financially from it? That’s a conflict of interest,” Johnson said during a press conference Tuesday.

Johnson said the bills, filed Thursday with the Secretary of the Senate, are mostly a re-introduction of legislation from last session that didn’t make it across the finish line.

A similar House package made it out of committee but never advanced out of the chamber. The Senate version died in committee.

Johnson said the issue is systemic and resistant to change without further regulation.

“There’s a lot of money in this for people who just don’t seem to care about others. We have a system that is broken,” Johnson said.

This year, she and the other co-sponsors hope for something different. In the House last time, they had the support of former Judiciary chair Graham Filler (R-DeWitt). Now they have Civil Rights, Judiciary, and Public Safety chair Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) as a co-sponsor.

In addition to the re-introduced policies, Johnson’s office said there are two new bills. One would require video of public court proceedings to be made public. The other would ban anyone who has been removed as a public administrator by the Attorney General’s office from becoming a guardian ad litem or conservator.

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Lawmakers highlight abuse in guardian system amid bill re-introduction

Why some Wisconsin residents with mental disabilities lose voting rights — and how they can restore them

by Zhen Wang

Frank Wallitsch’s guardianship paperwork is photographed at his parents’ home in Mount Horeb, Wis. The box indicating Wallitsch’s voting rights were to be removed was accidentally left checked when the paperwork was filed in 2010. Wallitsch, who was placed under a guardianship related to his disability, lost his voting rights even though his parents did not intend for those rights to be removed. But despite being on the state’s ineligible voter list, he was able to vote in previous elections. (Drake White-Bergey / Wisconsin Watch)

Thousands of Wisconsinites have been “adjudicated incompetent” to vote under state laws designed to protect mentally incapacitated people from having someone else fill out their ballot.

Under laws in Wisconsin and many states, a court may determine someone is incompetent to vote. Ten states — including neighboring Illinois and Michigan — place no disability-related restrictions on voting rights, according to a 2018 Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law report.  

But Wisconsin lacks a statutorily defined system for tracking people ruled mentally incompetent to vote, Wisconsin Watch reporting has revealed. That has led to instances of people casting ballots in recent elections despite being on the statewide ineligible voter list. They include two voters who told Wisconsin Watch they didn’t know they were ineligible. 

Disability rights advocates and legal experts disagree over whether — and to what extent  — certain people with mental disabilities should lose their voting rights.

“Historically, people with disabilities have experienced a lot of discrimination with certainly their rights, and that includes the right to vote,” said Barbara Beckert, external advocacy director of Disability Rights Wisconsin. “There is a lot of inconsistency from state to state and how this is currently in place.”

Why does Wisconsin disenfranchise certain people with mental disabilities, and how can some restore their right to vote?

Here’s what you need to know. 

Who in Wisconsin could lose their voting rights for mental disability reasons? 

A subset of people under legal guardianship — someone who has a court-appointed guardian to make health and financial decisions — may lose their right to vote. 

People with degenerative brain disorder, including dementia, and developmental disabilities — such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy and autism — may be ruled “incompetent” or “incapacitated” and lose their voting rights.

Courts rely on opinions of medical professionals and a court-appointed guardian ad litem to assess a person’s capacity to make important decisions, such as those related to their health care or finances. During a hearing, a court will determine whether a guardian is necessary and will outline the scope of the guardian’s decision- making power.  

Not everyone under guardianship loses the right to vote. 

While people under the guardianship might struggle to make choices about health care and finances, many can still decide who they want to vote for, said Tami Jackson, a public policy analyst for the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities.

Under Wisconsin law, people disallowed from voting in Wisconsin include: “Any person who is incapable of understanding the objective of the elective process or who is under guardianship, unless the court has determined that the person is competent to exercise the right to vote.”

Under that broad definition, those who understand their reasons for voting, want to vote for a candidate and want that candidate to win should retain their voting rights, said Ellen Henningsen, who directs the Voting and Guardianship Project for Disability Rights Wisconsin.

“It’s a very simple standard. It’s a very low standard, frankly, because we don’t impose any capacity tests on average voters,” Henningsen said.  

Who decides whether someone is competent to vote?

Only a judge can determine a person’s legal competence to vote in Wisconsin. No one else has that power — not a family member, caregiver, election official, doctor or designated power of attorney. 

How many people in Wisconsin have lost their voting rights under this process? 

A Wisconsin Elections Commission list contains more than 22,000 people who have been “adjudicated incompetent” to vote in Wisconsin. But that list is imperfect. Some, but not all, counties notify state elections officials when a person is found incompetent to vote, Joel DeSpain, a Wisconsin Elections Commission spokesman, previously told Wisconsin Watch. Additionally, the statewide list includes people who have since died. 

Why disenfranchise people with certain mental disabilities?

The laws are designed to bolster election integrity and to protect mentally incapacitated people from having someone else fill out their ballot or manipulate them into voting a certain way.

“Individuals who do not understand the nature of voting creates a pool of potential votes that might be cast by anyone with the ability to gain access to those individuals’ ballots — a species of vote fraud,” Pamela Karlan, the co-director of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic at the Stanford University Law School, wrote in the McGeorge Law Review

Frank Wallitsch is photographed with his mother, Susan Wallitsch, in her home in Mount Horeb, Wis. Frank is functionally nonverbal, but he can point to letters on a sheet of paper to communicate. While being photographed, Frank spelled, “Navigating law is hard,” using the paper. Wallitsch, who was placed under a guardianship related to his disability, lost his voting rights even though his parents did not intend for those rights to be removed. (Drake White-Bergey / Wisconsin Watch)

For instance, an assisted living facility staff member could influence the votes of people with severe cognitive disabilities in their care, she told the nonprofit news outlet Stateline in 2018.

A partisan review of Wisconsin’s 2020 election raised those same concerns when it found a couple of examples of nursing home residents who had voted despite being on the state’s “adjudicated incompetent” list. But no cases of nursing home voter fraud have come to light. 

Critics of disenfranchisement laws and practice point out such scenarios involve law-breaking by people other than the person with a disability, and they question the idea of protecting the rights of a cognitively disabled voter by stripping them away.

Can people restore their voting rights after losing them? 

Yes. That involves petitioning the county probate court. Filing a petition carries no cost and should be done 180 days after a guardianship hearing. 

Petitioners can get help from someone who supports the restoration of their voting rights, whether a guardian, family member, service provider or teacher. 

There, petitioners can show they understand the election process, said Henningsen, who advocates for people to restore their voting rights. There are good reasons to do so, she said.  Judges may have been mistaken in the first place. Or petitioners may now understand the election process, whether because they’ve matured or received education — or their health conditions have improved.

But once people lose the right to vote, they face a higher burden of proof in having it restored, Jackson said. 

Petitioners should be prepared for the court to ask questions, says Disabilities Wisconsin Rights, which publishes a guide for voting rights restoration

If a court restores a petitioner’s right, the person must register to vote before casting a ballot. 

How have these issues been politicized in Wisconsin?  

The issue first gained attention a year ago as part of former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman’s partisan investigation into the 2020 election. Gableman identified a couple of cases of people in nursing homes who had voted despite a court removing their voting rights.

That unfolded as Republican backers of former President Donald Trump sought to sow doubts about the results of his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden — and to purge thousands of names from Wisconsin voter rolls.

“It’s unfortunate that people with disabilities are being looked at as somehow violators of election law when so many of them who have their right to vote experience incredible barriers to access voting,”  said Jackson of the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities. “I just see that this is a solution that is looking for a problem.”

Although conservative activists pushed misinformation in that process, including conflating ineligible and eligible voters, they did help identify some holes in Wisconsin’s statewide voter database. 

As Wisconsin Watch reported in March, Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell conducted a review of about 1,000 names from the state’s list of people a court deemed incompetent to vote and found 95 examples of people who voted after being added to the list.

While more examples than previously known, the number is small compared with the millions of votes cast in statewide elections — and not enough to alter past results as Trump and others have claimed. In reviewing some of the cases, Wisconsin Watch found examples of human error, rather than coordinated or intentional illegal voting.

“We all want our elections to have integrity, but we also want to make sure that doesn’t come at the expense of the rights of people with disabilities,” Beckert said. 

The nonprofit Wisconsin Watch ( collaborates with WPR, PBS Wisconsin, other news media and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by Wisconsin Watch do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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Why some Wisconsin residents with mental disabilities lose voting rights — and how they can restore them

Sacramento police surprise elderly man after his bike was stolen

An elderly Sacramento man is back to cycling across the city after his bike was stolen a few weeks ago. Cecil Quillan, 74, bikes everywhere, and it is his only way of getting around since he has a hard time walking. One day in early March, Quillan went to the CVS at 17th and K streets to pick up a few groceries, but when he came back outside, his locked bike was nowhere to be found. "I was only in there a couple of minutes. I went out and they had snapped the cable with the bolt cutters," Quillan said.

Sacramento police surprise elderly man after his bike was stolen

Michigan lawmakers seek new protections for guardian safety net

by  Craig Mauger

Lansing — Lawmakers announced Thursday they want to reform Michigan's guardianship system to prevent elder abuse in the wake of a Detroit News investigation that found mistreatment and lax oversight within the state's safety net for vulnerable adults.

A bipartisan group of senators is working on the new six bills that would require courts to obtain a physician or mental health professional’s assessment of an individual prior to appointing a guardian and would stipulate professional guardians be certified.

In Michigan, a court can appoint a guardian to supervise a person who loses the ability to take care of themselves. The professional guardian can manage a ward's finances, health care and other requirements of day-to-day living.

However, an 18-month Detroit News investigation, which debuted March 15, found there were no education, training or certification requirements for guardians and the legal framework was so devoid of protections that egregious financial conduct by guardians or conservators often was perfectly legal.

"This should not be happening in America, but it is happening every day in Michigan,” state Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, said. “Our current system is ripe for abuse, and there is not enough accountability or oversight.

"We’ve heard from too many victims and family members that reforms are badly needed.”

State Sen. Ruth Johnson has been pressing for guardianship reform legislation.  David Guralnick, The Detroit News

The News investigation showed guardians routinely placed elderly adults in care facilities and sold off their homes and possessions. One woman, Roberta Asplund of Ann Arbor, a retired public health nurse, had unsuccessfully sought to free herself from guardianship after she suffered a brain aneurysm in 2017.

In their announcement Thursday, Michigan lawmakers cited the reporting from The News and said they wanted to bring transparency to the state's guardianship system.

Their bills would require judges to explain specific reasons for appointing an unrelated professional guardian rather than a family member to oversee an individual’s care, according to a press release. Courts would also need to make video recordings of public court proceedings available.

The bills will be formally introduced and full details will become available when lawmakers return from a two-week spring break in April.

Tina Lindsay of Livonia, who became an activist for other families after successfully challenging guardianship for her father, hailed the reform effort Thursday.

"I really am hoping that this changes a lot of things for families," she told The News.

"I think the most important part of this legislation is that families are not kept away from their loved ones. And I hope before someone’s rights are taken away, they have an opportunity to be seen by a doctor because in a lot of these cases, these people are deemed incapacitated and they're not even seen.”

Sen. Paul Wojno, D-Warren, one of the sponsors of the package, said he wanted to ensure people's rights were protected.

"There is currently not enough oversight of guardians or conservators who manage the care and finances of thousands of Michigan seniors and other residents who might need some additional help, and we’ve seen multiple reports and heard directly from victims that the current system isn’t always working to protect them," Wojno said.

The bills are expected to be sent to the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary, and Public Safety Committee for consideration. The panel is chaired by Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, who is a co-sponsor.

The bills incorporate recommendations from Attorney General Dana Nessel’s Elder Abuse Task Force, which launched in 2019. The task force aimed to improve protections for wards when professional guardians sought to remove them from their homes and boost standards for medical reports that are used in guardianship hearings.

A related package of bills stalled in the Senate last session.

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Michigan lawmakers seek new protections for guardian safety net