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A Michigan court tasked with protecting its most vulnerable citizens has become home to a roiling controversy charging abuse, exploitation, robbery and neglect.

By Gretchen Rachel Hammond 

In the frigid, early morning of Monday, March 25, 2019, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel held a press conference announcing a task force primarily charged with reforming a court system rooted in medieval English law.

According to state and national activists, it’s a system that has been left unchecked for decades and is now so broken that it has led to unprecedented judicial overreach and the eradication of the constitutional, civil and human rights of thousands of Americans who have suffered from resulting neglect, isolation, abuse, torture and theft on a massive scale, allegedly at the hands of the same individuals assigned to protect them.

Both in Michigan and nationwide, the system is called “guardianship” and/or “conservatorship.” Once assigned to an individual that a probate or family court judge declares “legally incapacitated” and unable to manage their own affairs, often a complete stranger in the form of a court-appointed guardian or conservator assumes control over every aspect of that person’s life.

Every last possession, penny and decision is handed over to one of Michigan’s professional guardians and conservators culled from a pool of county public administrators, estate and probate attorneys or private guardianship companies.

In as little as a year, wards have been rendered completely indigent and reliant upon social services and benefits such as Medicaid. Their homes are gone, as are their savings accounts, IRAs, investment accounts, cars, personal belongings, keepsakes, heirlooms, jewelry and even their clothing. Every dollar of their social security, disability income or pensions falls under the control of their guardians with the exception of an allowance as low as $60 per month.

Inevitably, it’s the developmentally disabled and exponentially growing senior populations who are the most affected not only in Michigan but nationwide. Advocates for both groups claim that guardianship, by design, results in a “civil death” for those who are subjected to it and that, although free from any charges of wrongdoing, a person under guardianship has less rights than an imprisoned felon.

Pro-guardianship organizations claim such statements are histrionic; that a guardian has simply assumed the rights of an incapacitated individual, also called a “ward,” as a protective barrier against those who would exploit them. More