Editorial: One guiding principle to untangle guardianship flaws

From The Traverse City Record-Eagle: For Complete Post, Click Here…

ngd-This is the best public description of the deep and abiding failure of guardianship in Michigan I have seen…

The Record-Eagle’s nine-month dive into Michigan’s guardianship and conservator system found few heroes or villains, and fewer simple answers.

The more reporters investigated, the more tangles they found.

Many working in the system had both insight into its flaws and also reasons for them — changed policies, realities of funding and staffing, jurisdiction issues, delineation of duties, client privacy, fragmentation and more.

Those in the system juggle these, with the responsibility to decide what’s best for someone else, while walking a tightrope between ardent family members who disagree with each other on what “best” is. The difficulties are no doubt immense.

But we let one faction guide our reporting: The people for whom the system is built.

Vulnerable adults. The elderly. Those incapacitated by circumstance and illness. The guardian/conservator system is meant to serve them — not those orbiting around them.

But time, and time again, we found the system serving itself, the absence of the voices of the individuals in question creating both a vacuum and an opportunity for exploitation; a lack of accountability and transparency allowing repeated and unnecessary incompetence and abuse.

“Unguarded’s” findings bear repeating:

  • Probate courts aren’t built to audit and monitor what guardians do with their wards.
  • Protocol changes by the state judiciary, made in the name of reform, weakened state oversight.
  • Three employees in the Attorney General’s office are tasked with keeping a watchful eye on more than 1,600 vulnerable individuals who have no family members interested in their well-being.
  • Reform efforts have come and gone with little to show, the result of repeated efforts by judges and professional guardians to resist oversight changes. Those efforts are being revived today.
  • “Good” guardians are sorely needed, but the job often pays pennies and encourages professional guardians to oversee as many wards as possible.

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