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Audit of Michigan probate courts raises serious concerns

Most people, including our Detroit-area readers, would probably rather avoid going to court if they can. After all, court hearings usually only occur when the conflict between two parties reaches a point where the issue cannot be resolved through alternative means. But whenever parties do end up in court, most would like to think that all of the best practices are being followed. A recent audit of Michigan's probate courts, however, found a few bugs in the system.

According to the audit, 45 percent of the Michigan probate courts that responded to a survey did not conduct background checks on the people the courts named as guardians or conservators. In all, 76 courts responded to the survey, meaning 34 of them did not take this precaution. Sixty-one percent did not perform sex offender checks.

Individuals who have been named as conservators or guardians are usually entrusted with making financial or medical decisions on behalf of people who have been found incapable of making decisions on their own. The individuals who are in need of a conservator or guardian are most likely to be the elderly people or children.

As of now, probate courts in Michigan are not required by law to do background checks for people who petition for guardianships or conservatorships. However, the courts that do conduct these checks are considered by the American Association of Retired Persons to be following "sound business practice."

Having your power of decision making given to another person is a serious matter, and it is only done when it is absolutely necessary. The findings of the recent audit highlight concerns within the legal process. Anyone who wishes to avoid having a court entrust these important duties to an undeserving person would be wise to consider the appropriate legal filings, such as a durable power of attorney or a health care power of attorney.

Source: mlive.com, "Audit flags courts for not doing background checks on conservators, guardians," David Eggert, July 13, 2012

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