Elder abuse group expected to address guardianships, financial fraud, family rights
Lansing — A statewide task force will address the legal, social and judicial shortfalls that have in some part allowed for the abuse of roughly 73,000 older adults in Michigan.
The Elder Abuse Task Force announced Monday by Attorney General Dana Nessel has support from prosecutors and law enforcement, probate courts, health care associations and elder law groups. The task force will include members of the Michigan Supreme Court, the governor’s office, county prosecutors, state and federal lawmakers, advocacy groups and 13 people from the Attorney General's office.
Other task forces in 1998 and 2007 studied the issue, Nessel said, but gaps remain prevalent throughout a social and legal system that is supposed to protect vulnerable and elderly adults.
Nessel promised the task force would produce real results and launched the group with nine initiatives that would tighten guardianship rules, require more training for law enforcement and adult protective services personnel, establish basic rights for families, mandate reporting by banks of suspected exploitation and create multi-disciplinary teams at the local level. When the group attains those goals, it will move on to other initiatives, she said.
“This has been studied to death,” Nessel said. “To me, it was time for some action.”
The task force will hold public hearings across the state to gather public input starting with a tentatively scheduled meeting on June 14 in Kent County, Nessel said. In addition, people who suspect elder abuse or are victims of such can call (800) 24-ABUSE (22873) or report it online at mi.gov/elderabuse.
A small group of protesters gathered outside the G. Mennen Williams Building in Lansing prior to the press conference. The group expressed hope that the task force would do more than focus on families as culprits in elder abuse, but also explore potential corruption in the legal system surrounding guardianships, conservatorships and estates.
“They are stealing our assets," Victoria McCasey of Holly said of the state's current public administrator system. "And what’s sad about it is that we, the family members, have to take our life savings to fight to get what’s rightfully ours back,”
Nessel is looking closely at the state public administrator system, which allows the attorney general to appoint county public administrators responsible for settling an estate when someone dies with no will or apparent heir, her spokesman Kelly Rossman-McKinney said.
The task force also expects to work with the court and legal systems to ensure better protections for wards receiving guardians and create regular reviews of each guardianship, Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein said.
At the end of 2018, 32,137 adults had full or limited legal guardians, according to the State Court Administrative Office. Of the 9,285 guardianship petitions filed last year, 7,337 were granted, 1,766 were withdrawn or dismissed and 116 were denied.
Judges need to do a better job assessing those arrangements and asking the right questions to suss out the qualifications and intentions of each guardian, Bernstein said.
“It is absolutely essential that the judges make sure that the ward has a voice,” he said.
The Attorney General’s Office has collaborated on dozens of elderly financial exploitation investigations in the past two years. But with one in 10 elderly expected to be victims of such abuse, a concerted effort was needed to identify crimes that often go unreported, Nessel said.
Like domestic violence cases, elder abuse incidents often involve a family member or person of authority with emotion ties to the victim, making it difficult for the victim to come forward, she said.
“The good Lord willing, we’re all going to be elderly one day,” Nessel said. “This affects every single one of us and that is why it’s so incredibly important.”