Audit Finds Courts Not Doing Enough Background Checks on Conservators

By Michael Klazema on 7/30/2012

According to a recent state audit, Michigan probate courts are not always performing background checks on court appointees put in charge of making medical and financial decisions for those who are not able to care for themselves. The survey found that 45 percent of those responding did not perform criminal background checks on appointed conservators or guardians for seniors, children, or other wards of the state unable to make their own decisions. It was also found that 61 percent of the courts do not check for sex offender records. Although Michigan law does not require background checks before and after conservators are appointed, senior advocacy group AARP believes it to be a “sound business practice.” Thomas McTavish, the state Auditor General, recommends that the administrative arm of the Michigan Supreme Court assist probate judges in performing background checks for potential guardians and conservators. Guardians are appointed in order to decide on living arrangements and medical treatment for those in their care. Conservators have the power to make decisions related to finances and property for their wards. By the end of 2010, the number of adults and minors with conservators in Michigan was nearly 22,700, and guardians had been appointed to almost 76,000 of the state population.

Since guardians and conservators have so much power over the lives of those they are appointed to, there is concern the probate court has not done enough to vet the backgrounds of and oversee the appointees. The audit listed several other findings that suggested the probate courts and State Court Administrative Office could do better through providing more oversight. One recommendation was to detect “self dealing” from conservators, where they stand to profit from selling, buying, or transferring their client’s assets. This can be detected easier by ensuring conservators and guardians submit required paperwork like accounting statements. In one case, a conservator was found to have invested almost $57,000 of their client’s assets, and in another, was late in filing their required annual report by over four years. Additional recommendations include reviewing the conservators’ annual accounting filings, closely monitor estate values and conservator fees, analyze the caseloads of conservators, and ensure guardian cases are reviewed one year after appointment as required and then every three years. The State Court Administrative Office has agreed to most of the audit’s findings, but said it is also up to local funding whether or not they can be followed.

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