A state audit of five probate courts detailing widespread abuses by people entrusted with the assets of young, old and disabled people has so alarmed the Michigan Supreme Court that it will review every probate court in the state, reports the Detroit Free Press.
Starting next week, the court will send auditors to probate courts throughout the state for random checks of conservatorships. If crimes are found, cases are to be turned over to prosecutors. Misbehavior by attorneys is to be reported to the Attorney Grievance Commission. If chief judges have mishandled their courts, they may be replaced.
Probate is the legal process of administering an estate. It involves demonstrating that a will is valid, cataloging the deceased’s belongings and getting them appraised, distributing property, paying debts and taxes and transferring titles.
Conservators — who are appointed by a judge to take care of the finances of a child, a person with dementia or a person with disabilities — are supposed to responsibly manage the money.
Conservators were assigned to 33,648 adults and children in Michigan as of December 2002. About three-quarters of the conservators were related to the people whose affairs they managed. The rest were mostly lawyers and accountants.
The Free Press in 2000 ran a series highlighting widespread problems with the state’s conservator and guardian system. The series sparked the Michigan Supreme Court to appoint an ombudsman to look into problems, but funding for the watchdog dried up after a year and the office closed.