June 10, 2021
LANSING - Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel was joined today by Michigan Supreme Court Justice Megan Cavanagh, Representative Graham Filler, Senator Roger Victory and a bipartisan group of state legislators to announce legislation implementing fundamental reforms impacting guardians and conservators-individuals appointed by probate courts to act in the best interests of vulnerable individuals.
The legislation - House Bills 4847, 4848, 4849, and 4850; and Senate Bills 503, 504, 505 and 506 - is the culmination of more than two years of work by the Elder Abuse Task Force. The group of about 55 organizations and more than 100 individuals is dedicated to addressing abuse, neglect and exploitation of Michigan's vulnerable older adults.
With bipartisan support, and if passed by the legislature, the bills will implement the remainder of the Task Force's first initiatives.
A probate court appoints a guardian when there is clear and convincing evidence that an individual is incapacitated and cannot make informed decisions about their welfare and safety and when there is no less restrictive alternative. A conservator is generally appointed in the same circumstances to handle the individual's money.
Although most people view guardianship as a benign protective device, when used inappropriately or without critical safeguards, guardianship itself can result in the abuse of older adults and strip individuals of their most basic rights. When a person has a full guardian, the guardian makes decisions about virtually every aspect of that person's life-where the person will live, what medical care they will receive, what activities they can participate in, and sometimes even whether they can communicate with their own family, thus implicating sacred rights of liberty, bodily integrity, freedom of association, and the pursuit of happiness.
Highlights of the legislation include a requirement for certification of guardians and conservators, including requirements for minimum training and professional standards. The legislation also requires courts to make findings of fact if a person with priority for appointment, such as a family member, is passed over in favor of a professional guardian or conservator. In addition, the legislation improves the protections for individuals under a guardianship before a professional guardian may remove them from their home.
"The legislation goes to the heart of protecting Michigan's most vulnerable and ensuring that their civil liberties, autonomy and dignity are protected," said Attorney General Nessel. "These proposals help ensure our guardianship system provides vulnerable Michiganders with a true safety net, not a trap, and ensures our probate courts use guardianship only to combat, not enable, elder abuse."
"Thank you to the Task Force and the Attorney General for an ongoing, open and inclusive process and for working to educate the public about guardianships and the important work of probate courts," said Supreme Court Justice Megan Cavanagh. "With these reforms, judges will have additional tools in the law to make sure that the rights of people with guardians are protected."
"I have always worked hard to enact legislation that protects our most vulnerable residents," said Representative Graham Filler, R-DeWitt. "Our elder abuse task force has worked hard to identify the shortfalls with the system. I'm pleased to take the next step today as we introduce solutions that will protect seniors and vulnerable adults and make sure bad actors cannot take advantage of them."
"One of the most important roles we have in our society and in state government is to protect our most vulnerable citizens from harm - emotionally, physically and financially," said Senator Roger Victory, R-Hudsonville. "As the chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, I look forward to working with the attorney general and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle on this common goal of ensuring the best interests of our seniors is always the top priority."
Members of the Task Force are scheduled to testify this afternoon before the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee at a hearing in Oakland County. House Judiciary Committee testimony is scheduled for Tuesday, June 22.