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AG Nessel Testifies in Support of Guardianship and Conservatorship Reforms
September 27, 2023
LANSING - Today, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel testified before the House Judiciary Committee in support of House Bills 4909, 4910, 4911, and 4912, which would institute long-awaited reforms to Michigan’s guardianship statutes, as well as HB 5047 which would create the Office of State Guardian. She was joined by Scott Teter, Division Chief of the Financial Crimes Division and head of the Elder Abuse Task Force.
“These bills, and our continued work in this area, are fundamental to restoring basic dignity to some of the most vulnerable adults in our state,” said Nessel. “These reforms have been proposed time and time again and nothing has changed. It is incumbent upon all of us to ensure that our guardianship and conservatorship system serves to protect our residents, and that is exactly what this bill package does.”
As part of her testimony, Attorney General Nessel highlighted the decades of work that have been poured into these reforms dating back to the Michigan Supreme Court’s first Elder Abuse Task Force, formed in 1998. She also brought attention to problems that the Department of Attorney General and partner organizations in the Task Force repeatedly see. To combat those issues, the legislation will:
- Require a judge to justify on the record why a family member who is willing to serve as a guardian is not suitable. While the law already provides that family members have priority, the modification serves as an additional safeguard to ensure family members get due consideration;
- Eliminate a judge’s ability to prevent a challenge to an appointed guardianship/conservatorship for up to six months;
- Require guardian and conservator certification and visitation frequency;
- Establish a clear asset/income threshold for appointment of a conservator;
- Set standards for the Guardian ad Litem report to the court;
- Protect personal items of sentimental value from being discarded;
- Establish a right to attorney throughout the proceedings;
- Establish additional protections for individuals before removing them from their homes;
- Improve the basic standard for medical testimony; and more.
“On behalf of our 1.25 million Michigan members, AARP Michigan supports House Bills 4909-4912, which address crucial reforms for adult guardianships and conservatorships in our state,” said AARP Michigan State Director Paula Cunningham. “These bills would establish requirements for professional guardian certification, improve due process protections, and enhance transparency and accountability to safeguard the rights and assets of vulnerable individuals. We applaud efforts that would limit abuse in Michigan's guardianship system and ask that you approve this legislation."
The Department was joined by subject matter experts Michelle Roberts – Executive Director, Disability Rights Michigan, Salli Pung - State Ombudsmen, Nathan Piwowarski - Probate attorney, Chris Smith-Elder Law Attorney, Nichole Shannon – practicing attorney, Michigan Elder Justice Initiative (MEJI), and Allison Hirschel – an MEJI National Expert.
“Disability Rights Michigan receives thousands of calls each year from individuals with disabilities seeking assistance,” Roberts testified. “Our clients call to report abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation by their guardians and for assistance to terminate an unnecessary or overly restrictive guardianship order. The proposed changes will stop unnecessary guardianships, ensure people subjected by guardianships are seen, heard, and afforded the choice, dignity and respect they deserve before, during, and after petitions are filed,”
Michigan's Elder Abuse Task Force launched in 2019 and consists of more than 55 different organizations in the public, private and nonprofit sections - all working together to combat elder abuse. The more than 100 individuals on the Task Force are divided into seven committees working diligently to accomplish nine initiatives. Achievements include the adoption of a Vulnerable Adult Incident Report form for investigations by law enforcement across the state, including the implementation of related trainings. In addition to the vulnerable adult incident report and associated trainings, the Financial Exploitation Prevention Act was passed that ensures mandated reporting for financial institutions on suspected fraud or exploitation and was part of the Task Force’s First Set of Initiatives.
More than 73,000 older adults in Michigan are victims of elder abuse. They experience abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Michigan residents seeking elder abuse resources are encouraged to call 800-24-ABUSE (22873), or 855-444-3911 to report suspected elder abuse.