On July 9, Attorney General Dana Nessel and her task force of four score members reached Berrien County, the third stop on their tour of the state. The purpose of this tour is to address the emotional and financial issues presented with guardianship abuse.
Attorney General Nessel’s Elder Abuse Task Force is made up of more than 80 individuals from over 50 organizations including Meals on Wheels and Region IV Agency on Aging representatives from Berrien, Cass, and VanBuren counties. The tour is being used as a fact-finding event seeking to gather input from elderly residents and propose solutions to guardianship abuse. The tour was inspired when Nessel stated that she had seen petitions for guardianships for elderly citizens “decided in less time, with less testimony or deliberation, that a traffic ticket.”
Guardianship of an individual grants the guardian access to the individual’s financial accounts, property, and medical history. It is a deeply intimate responsibility yet According to the Michigan Bar, as long as the individual is “a person interested in the welfare of the incapacitated individual” they may petition the probate courts for guardianship of an elderly person.
Additionally, although the judge must find clear and convincing evidence that the individual lacks the understanding or capacity to make or communicate informed decisions in order to decide that a guardian is necessary to provide for the individual’s continuing care and supervision, any “competent” person may be appointed as a guardian.
In this instance, a competent person is defined as someone over the age of 18, suitable, and willing to serve. With such lax entry rules and a high incentive for individuals wishing to exploit the system, guardianship abuse has become a serious issue in Michigan.
According to the Attorney General, 73,000 Michigan residents a year are made victims of elder abuse, which can involve:
- Physical harm
- Emotional abuse
- Exploitation of finances
- Exploitation of property
The last three of those options are particularly common with guardianship abuse as negligent individuals become guardians and fail to accommodate their wards.
With 2 million residents who will soon be 65 or older, the Elder Abuse Task Force has made great strides to attempt to introduce reforms that will seek to minimize guardianship abuse in Michigan. One of their most important reforms is the introduction of a requirement for professional guardians to become certified and be responsible for acquiring training and maintaining professional standards.
The task force has also suggested instituting a limit to the number of wards allowed per guardian. Attorney General Nessel has said that some guardians have as many as 500 clients. Additionally, the attorney general’s office is demanding mandatory reporting from financial institutions if they suspect fraud or exploitation of an elder’s finances. The attorney general’s office has also called for a full hearing for guardianships and conservatorships, with the ward present and medical testimony provided to be required before guardianship is approved.
Scott Teter, the division chief for financial crimes in the attorney general’s office, has also begun working with law enforcement to provide information and training on how to recognize and report suspected elder abuse. Additionally, Teter has made recommendations that guardianships not involving a family member should be reviewed after six months, and then annually after that.
The Attorney General and her task force believe that if these regulations can be put into place, then the incidences of guardianship abuse may be reduced. For people across the nation, this story serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of guardianship abuse in their own states and cities
For more information about Financial abuse and guardianship abuse, see the National Association of Nursing Home Abuse’s Financial Abuse Page