Michigan Proposes Reform to State Guardianship Laws

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Michigan Supreme Court Justice Megan K. Cavanaugh, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and a bipartisan group of state lawmakers announced legislation to reform state guardianship laws, following decades of criticism by families and elder advocates.
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“With the reforms we’ve proposed today, probate judges will have additional tools in the law to make sure that the rights of people with guardians are protected,” Cavanaugh said at a press conference, reported by The Traverse City (MI) Eagle-Record’s recent article entitled “Mich. AG, Supreme Court announce guardianship reforms.”

“If a court chooses a professional guardian over a family member, the reason for that decision should be transparent and should be supported on the record,” Cavanaugh said.

The proposed bill would require guardians and conservators to be trained, certified and bonded. In addition, guardians would be restricted in the number of people they could be appointed to serve, would require frequent in-person visits, there would be more detailed reporting and they would prioritize the wishes of the person under guardianship over the convenience of the guardian.

“This is not fly-by-night legislation,” said state Rep. Graham Filler (R-Dewitt), a former state assistant attorney general. “These bills come from years of discussion, a task force and non-partisan review.”

“My promise to elderly and disabled Michigan citizens in the guardianship system is that this legislature will stand with, and protect you,” Filler said.

The proposed legislation comes two years after the Attorney General formed her Elder Abuse Task Force and went on a 12-stop statewide listening tour.

Dickinson County Probate Judge Thomas D. Slagle said in an email that Cavanaugh was an apt representative of the judiciary, although elder law attorney Bradley Geller questioned whether probate court judges would support — or try to thwart — the proposed changes.

“In the past, probate judges have worked hard to stop this kind of reform legislation and they have prevailed,” Geller said. “The proposed legislation is good legislation, but even if it isn’t chipped away in committee, and even if it passes, it won’t matter unless probate judges follow the law.”

Geller wrote a book on guardianship in Michigan, “Handbook for Guardians of Adults.” He sued the State of Michigan and its 78 probate courts in 2017 in federal court over the system he alleged abuses the vulnerable for financial gain. The lawsuit was dismissed on a technicality, and Geller said the newly proposed bills, which he largely supports, don’y address professional guardians who are already appointed to oversee the medical, housing and financial affairs of as many as 400 people.

Reference: Traverse City (MI) Eagle-Record (June 13, 2021) “Mich. AG, Supreme Court announce guardianship reforms”