LANSING, Mich. — Sens. Ruth Johnson, Jim Runestad, Jeff Irwin, and Paul Wojno have turned in bipartisan legislation to reform Michigan’s guardianship and conservatorship laws to help prevent elder abuse and exploitation of other vulnerable individuals.
“This should not be happening in America, but it is happening every day in Michigan,” said Johnson, R-Holly. “Our current system is ripe for abuse, and there is not enough accountability or oversight. We’ve heard from too many victims and family members that reforms are badly needed.”
Bipartisan legislation spearheaded by Johnson and Rep. Graham Filler, R-DeWitt, was reported out of the House Judiciary committee last June but did not receive a vote by the full House of Representatives before the Legislature adjourned in December.
The new bills turned in Thursday would incorporate recommendations from Attorney General Dana Nessel’s Elder Abuse Task Force and address issues raised in a recent investigative report by The Detroit News on abuses and weaknesses in Michigan’s current guardianship system.
“Michigan’s guardianship process is broken, and real people are being exploited and hurt,” said Runestad, R-White Lake. “The wishes of seniors placed under a guardianship are too often ignored and uncertified guardians can proceed to sell off a senior’s home and property, and even deny access to them by their family. That’s just unacceptable.”
The bills being introduced in the Senate would require courts to obtain a physician or mental health professional’s assessment of an individual prior to appointing a guardian and would require judges to explain on the record the specific reasons when appointing an unrelated professional guardian rather than a family member to oversee an individual’s care.
“We must protect people’s rights and the rights of their loved ones,” said Wojno, D-Warren, who served as a member of Nessel’s Elder Abuse Task Force. “There is currently not enough oversight of guardians or conservators who manage the care and finances of thousands of Michigan seniors and other residents who might need some additional help, and we’ve seen multiple reports and heard directly from victims that the current system isn’t always working to protect them.”
“Guardians play a vital role in providing safe and rewarding lives for people who can no longer make critical decisions alone,” said Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor. “But we need to make sure there are safeguards in place — to protect people’s rights and property — because we know there are bad actors that exploit people in vulnerable situations.”
Among other things, under the bills introduced in the Senate, professional guardians would be required to be certified, the number of individuals who could be placed under the care of a single professional guardian or conservator would be limited, someone who has been removed as a public administrator by the attorney general for cause would be banned from being appointed as a professional guardian or conservator, and courts would need to make video recordings of public court proceeding available to the public.
“There needs to be sunshine and transparency,” Johnson said. “Guardians have responsibility for every aspect of a person’s life. The bar needs to be set higher.”
The legislation is expected to be sent to the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary, and Public Safety committee for consideration. The committee is chaired by Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, who is a co-sponsor of the bills introduced by Johnson, Runestad, Wojno, and Irwin.