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Michigan leaders announce new legislation addressing problems within state's guardianship system

State's guardianship problems first exposed by 7 Investigators
Posted at 5:31 PM, Jun 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-10 12:27:22-04

(WXYZ) — In Michigan, if a court declares you mentally incapacitated a judge can appoint a guardian for you. That means you can no longer make your own legal, medical or financial decisions. For years the 7 Investigators have been leading the way, exposing Michigan’s troubled guardianship system. On Thursday, top state leaders are planning a major announcement about new legislation that aims to fix some of the problems first exposed by 7 Investigator Heather Catallo.

The hit Netflix movie “I Care A Lot” put professional guardians in the global spotlight. Cold-hearted, court-appointed guardian Marla Grayson isn’t just a figment of Hollywood’s imagination. Her character was based on real-life professional guardians, similar to some of the guardians the 7 Investigators have been exposing since 2017.

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“The story came about because I’d heard news reports about real professional guardians in America,” said J Blakeson, the director and writer of “I Care A Lot.”

In Michigan, things are about to change for guardians and the court system.

“Protecting those who can’t protect themselves in a system that unfortunately is rife with abuse, that’s why it’s important,” said State Rep. Graham Filler (R-Dewitt), who is co-sponsoring four new bills that aim to improve Michigan’s guardianship laws. “There are really good guardians out there who are putting in their time, and getting to know their wards and trying to know every detail. And then unfortunately there are some gray areas where some really bad actors have taken advantage of elderly folks. So what this is going to do is put some guardrails around the system so those bad actors have less of an opportunity to take advantage of elderly folks.”

One key proposal is improving how medical reports are used in guardianship hearings to make sure courts have the most accurate information before placing someone under guardianship.

Here are some of the other issues the bills address:

  • They would mandate that professional guardians be certified.
  • And they would require judges to explain on the record why they’re appointing a professional guardian rather than a family member

“There are situations out there where the judge has a capable and wanting family member to serve as a guardian and instead of choosing that family member they instead choose a guardian. And I think this will cut down on that,” Filler said.

On Thursday, Attorney General Dana Nessel and members of the Elder Abuse Task Force will unveil two years of work on this issue.

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According to the attorney general, the task force has revised its original initiatives and is still working on some of the initial goals, including limiting the number of wards per guardian. But several of the starting goals are reflected in the new legislation.

The task force is calling for:

  • Refining the process for emergency petitions for guardianship/conservatorship to promote indivdiuals’ due process rights and ensure that guardians are only appointed when a less restrictive alternative exists;
  • Clarifying and expanding a guardian ad litem’s (a lawyer tasked with contacting someone being considered for guardianship) responsibilities both to the alleged incapacitated person and to the court, including making sure they spend enough time meeting privately with the vulnerable adult;
  • Improving protections for wards when professional guardians seek to remove them from their homes.

Taskforce members say they have support on both sides of the aisle for the new legislation.

“This is not a partisan issue. This is a safety, protecting the elderly issue,” Filler said.

If you have a story for Heather, please email her at hcatallo@wxyz.com.