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AG Nessel testifies in Lansing, challenging state's guardianship laws: 'We should be ashamed...'

Posted at 6:10 PM, Jun 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-22 18:39:45-04

LANSING (WXYZ) — The Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel testified Tuesday in front of a committee in Lansing telling legislators we should be ashamed of how we treat the elderly in our state.

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Members of the Elder Abuse Task Force are trying to get the laws changed to improve Michigan’s flawed guardianship system, which the 7 Investigators have been reporting on for years.

“We should be ashamed of how we treat the elderly in this state.”

“We should be ashamed of how we treat the elderly in this state,” said Nessel during her testimony in front of the Michigan House Judiciary Committee. The attorney general said adult guardianship reforms are not just a good idea – they’re a moral imperative.

“We must remember that guardianship and conservatorships can and do ruin lives,” Nessel added. “Even prisoners, convicted murderers retain more rights than someone under a guardianship.”

The 7 Investigators have been exposing problems in the state’s guardianship system for four years.

Nessel even cited the WXYZ story about Marcie Mitchell’s parents, who were separated from their loved ones by a professional guardian back in 2019.

“The legislation before you today addresses the problems we saw in this case,” Nessel said.

When you’re declared mentally incapacitated by the probate courts and placed under guardianship, you can no longer make your own medical, financial, or legal decisions.

“We do not serve to denigrate those who do the sometimes thankless job of serving as guardians. But we do want a more transparent guardianship system here in Michigan,” said Rep. Graham Filler (R-Dewitt), who is sponsoring some of the bills.

RELATED: Why did a Macomb Co. judge put strangers in charge of an elderly couple instead of family?

New legislation created by the attorney general’s Elder Abuse Task Force will make it harder for professional guardians to isolate vulnerable adults or cash in on their estates.

“Sometimes we see guardians who misuse resident funds or who won’t provide residents with the most basic things, like underwear or consent for medical treatment,” said State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Salli Pung about people under guardianship in nursing homes and long term care facilities.

The four new bills would change several things, including giving judges more rules to follow to make sure family members get to serve as a guardian, instead of a stranger. The bills would also require more medical documentation before declaring someone incapacitated.

“Under this bill, a court may dismiss a proceeding if it cannot be shown by clear and convincing evidence that the individual is an incapacitated individual,” said Kyra Harris Bolden (D-Southfield), who is also sponsoring some of the legislation.

“They just improve transparency by making everyone knows what the rules are to be determined whether someone is unsuitable to serve,” said Christopher Smith from the State Bar Elder Law & Disability Rights Section.

The Michigan Probate Judges Association is not thrilled with all of the changes, but their president-elect testified that they’re working with the task force to keep tweaking the legislation.

“There are, however, some provisions that we see as problematic to the court process,” said Judge John Tomlinson.

Testimony for the bills was limited by time on Tuesday, but committee members say they will continue to hold hearings and work on these changes to the law over the summer.

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