By: Heather Catallo
(WXYZ) — The 7 Investigators have been exposing problems in Michigan’s guardianship system for six years. Today new plans were announced to bring additional oversight to the probate court system that many advocates say can hurt families and cost people their life savings.
We first told you about the idea for the Office of State Guardian back in April. Now that bill has been officially introduced and more details are emerging about the oversight it will potentially bring to a system many families complain about.
Currently in Michigan, if you’re having problems with a court-appointed guardian there’s no agency with oversight where you can file a complaint. If the new law passes, that could change.
Since 2017, the 7 Investigators have been exposing abuses in Michigan’s guardianship system. In one brief court hearing, with very little evidence, you can be declared legally incapacitated, and all your rights can vanish.
In response to our years of reporting, several bills have been introduced in Lansing to bring reforms.
“This is a bi-partisan package. It is a clear example of how government can be an instrument of good,” said House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Kelly Breen (D-Novi) during testimony Wednesday.
“The more common sense guardrails that we put around the system, the more vulnerable or elderly folks we protect,” said Rep. Graham Filler (R-St. Johns) while testifying in front of the committee Wednesday.
If passed, the package of five bills will do everything from requiring guardians to visit their wards more often, to making sure you have the right to an attorney if you’re being put under guardianship.
The newest change is a bill that would establish the Office of State Guardian.
“This Office of State Guardian would be responsible for receiving complaints and investigating them against guardians and conservators who are believed to be enacting financial or other abuses on their wards. The goal is that the OSG would then work with the Attorney General’s office on complaints that did involve improper criminal conduct,” said Rep. Betsy Coffia (D-Traverse City).
Other changes proposed: certification and a way to compensate professional guardians for their work – but also consequences if they break the rules.
“It’s basic stuff, that says ‘okay we’re going to make sure you’re not a criminal before we turn over somebody else’s life into your hands.’ I don’t think it’s too much to ask that we have the same level of supervision for someone who takes over another human being’s life than we have for someone who deals potatoes in the state of Michigan. That’s a licensed profession in our state,” said Scott Teter, the Division Chief of the Financial Crimes Division at the Attorney General’s office and head of the AG’s Elder Abuse Task Force.
Attorney General Dana Nessel’s Elder Abuse Task Force has worked for 4 years on the legislation. She testified Wednesday that during her state-wide listening tour, she heard dozens of horror stories about probate court guardianships.
“Guardians moving someone from their home, sticking them in a nursing home, cleaning out their house, and throwing away all of their belongings-- tossing them in a dumpster-- and then immediately putting the house up for sale with no appraisal,” said Nessel. “The solution to these 73,000 incidences of elder abuse, neglect, and economic exploitation every year, the response should not be doing nothing.”
“We have in the lobby a freedom shrine, and it shows the Declaration of Independence. And I re-read it [today]: we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, they’re endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. And there’s no qualifiers in there: ‘unless you get old, frail or your disabled,’” said Teter during the testimony.
The Michigan Guardianship Association
still opposes the changes to the laws. There will be additional
hearings on the bills in the coming weeks.
Full Article & Source:
Guardianship reform bills would put Office of State Guardian into place in Michigan