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Lawmakers highlight abuse in guardian system amid bill re-introduction

Michigan Senator Ruth Johnson
Colin Jackson
Michigan Senator Ruth Johnson

Michigan lawmakers are re-introducing bi-partisan legislation to provide more checks on the state’s court-appointed guardian and conservatorship system.

Package sponsors say the bills would tighten requirements placed on guardians ad litem. They would also further involve medical professionals in the process of determining whether an adult is considered “incapacitated.”

Supporters worry the law as it stands doesn’t do enough to prevent people from scamming the system and taking control of someone’s life.

Chandra Drayton and her sister, Olivia McDavid, spoke of their own experience with their mother’s guardian during a press conference in Southfield Tuesday.

Drayton said a stranger managed to become her mother’s guardian after her mother was admitted to a hospital for breathing troubles.

She said her mother stopped getting the care she needed after that point.

“They say, ‘Well, you know things happened, we’re sorry.' Sorry don't get it. But that changed her whole quality of life,” Drayton said.

She alleged once her mother started experiencing seizures, the guardian changed her directives to “do not resuscitate” at the hospital, against Drayton’s wishes.

Senator Ruth Johnson (R-Holly) said the current system leaves too much room for people to take advantage of older adults and their families.

“You don’t even get to go to the court sometimes and somebody deems you incapacitated, needing a guardian. By whose authority? Who’s the professional involved? Is it people that are going to be able to benefit financially from it? That’s a conflict of interest,” Johnson said during a press conference Tuesday.

Johnson said the bills, filed Thursday with the Secretary of the Senate, are mostly a re-introduction of legislation from last session that didn’t make it across the finish line.

A similar House package made it out of committee but never advanced out of the chamber. The Senate version died in committee.

Johnson said the issue is systemic and resistant to change without further regulation.

“There’s a lot of money in this for people who just don’t seem to care about others. We have a system that is broken,” Johnson said.

This year, she and the other co-sponsors hope for something different. In the House last time, they had the support of former Judiciary chair Graham Filler (R-DeWitt). Now they have Civil Rights, Judiciary, and Public Safety chair Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) as a co-sponsor.

In addition to the re-introduced policies, Johnson’s office said there are two new bills. One would require video of public court proceedings to be made public. The other would ban anyone who has been removed as a public administrator by the Attorney General’s office from becoming a guardian ad litem or conservator.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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