'Elderly folks ... should not be fenced in.' Legislation offers protection in MI guardianship system

Posted at 9:04 PM, Jun 10, 2021

(WSYM) — Conservators and guardians are supposed to act in the best interest of vulnerable people and that hasn't always happened.

It's a trail of heartbreak 7 Action News Investigator Heather Catallo has been investigating for years, exposing serious problems, even abuse, and corruption in the adult guardianship system.

And today Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and members of Michigan's Elder Abuse Task Force announced legislation aimed to bring a stop to the problems in the guardianship system.

"With the reforms, we propose today, probate judges will have additional tools in the law to make sure that the rights of people with guardians are protected," said Michigan Supreme Court Justice Megan K. Cavanagh.

What the bills introduced will do include increasing training for guardians, putting more procedural safeguards in place when a guardian is appointed, installing more protection for someone's property, and transparency on how that property is being used.

"The seniors have become an industry and they're cash cows," said Mila Kapusta.

Action News first shined a light on the problem in 2017 with Mila Kapusta's mom and dad, and a system Mila says essentially allowed her parents to be robbed.

"My mother's $6,000 strand of pearls got sold for $700. Every single bit of my mother's fine jewelry got sold despite the fact there was a court order in place, no jewelry was to be sold," said Mila.

Gretchen Sommer spoke at the press conference this morning. In late 2018, a Macomb County judge appointed a professional guardian to be in charge of Sommer’s aunt and uncle, Bob Mitchell and Barbara Delbridge.

Gretchen and her cousin Marcie Mitchell, Bob’s daughter, contacted the 7 Investigators after the guardian put up a six-foot tall privacy fence around Bob and Barb’s Utica home.

"Thankfully, Heather Catallo from WXYZ 7 began to cover our story and we're forever thankful for her because at that point that's when the AG's office intervened," said Sommer today.

Heather also reflected on today's announcement.

"These families are so traumatized. I have spent hours and hours and hours talking to them over the last four years, and to lose your loved one and have absolutely no recourse to get them back is absolutely devastating. So, hopefully, this new legislation will bring some hope, with some additional reforms, and the system can get a little bit better because so many families have suffered," she said.

Heather added, "I think it's nice for families in Michigan to know that after this many years of telling these terrible stories, things are finally starting to change."

One of the lawmakers said these bills have come from years of discussion and a non-partisan review.

It's reform that's long overdo, and no one will soon forget the images of Bob Mitchell and Barbara Delbridge reaching out to loved ones through the six and a half foot fence their guardian put up around their Utica Home.

"Elderly folks in the guardianship system should not be fenced in. That was insanity," said Rep. Graham Filler.

Sommer said, "I think now that, you know, all this corruption is out in the open, people see it, they need to come together to fix it. Our elderly people deserve that."

View the bills below:

2021-HIB-4847 by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit

2021-HIB-4848 by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit

2021-HIB-4849 by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit

2021-HIB-4850 by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit

Senate Bill 503 by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit

Senate Bill 504 by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit

Senate Bill 505 by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit

Senate Bill 506 by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit