In December 2022, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued two important opinions regarding guardianships in Michigan.
The first case, In re Guardianship of Roberta More Asplund, had to do with guardianship of an incapacitated adult. Docket No. 361556, 2022 WL 17724333 (Mich Ct App Dec 15, 2022) (unpublished). There, the probate court appointed a guardian for 91-year-old Roberta due to her cognitive impairment. Roberta’s son Randall filed “numerous petitions and other filings challenging the administration of Roberta’s guardianship[.]” Id. at *1. Randall “harassed Roberta’s caregivers, challenged every action taken by Roberta’s fiduciaries, and enlisted Roberta as an ally in his disputes with [his siblings], Roberta’s caregivers, and her fiduciaries.” Id. Randall “manipulated Roberta and prevented her from adjusting to her life changes.” Id. Eventually, the probate court appointed a limited-guardian solely for the purpose of supervising Randall’s visits with Roberta and ensuring that he did not raise prohibited topics with her. The limited-guardian eventually asked to resign because she could not prevent Randall from discussing prohibited topics with Roberta. Roberta’s foster care home also gave notice that Roberta would have to leave if Randall continued to visit her because of his arguments with staff and his filing of regulatory complaints against the facility.
Eventually, the probate court entered a personal protection order, prohibiting Randall from having any further contact with Roberta. Randall appealed, arguing that the probate court did not have the authority to prevent him from seeing his mother. The Michigan Court of Appeals disagreed. “The probate court ... entered the personal protection order as equitable relief stemming from its inherent authority under MCL 700.1302(c),” which is the statute granting the probate exclusive subject matter jurisdiction over guardianship proceedings. Id. at *2. “Accordingly, the probate court had the authority to enter injunctive relief ... to protect Roberta’s welfare and resolve the dispute over visitation.” Id.
This ruling is significant because it recognizes the probate court’s inherent authority to grant injunctive relief in matters within its jurisdiction, without relying on any express statutory authority to issue an injunction (such as MCL 700.1309). This decision will come in handy when an interested person seeks to enjoin a problematic family member from conduct that jeopardizes the ward’s wellbeing and best interests.
The second case, In re Guardianships of ER and GR, Minors, had to do with guardianship of minor children. Docket Nos. 362398 & 362399, 2022 WL 17726409 (Mich Ct App Dec 15, 2022) (unpublished). PT was appointed as guardian of his minor second cousins, ER and GR. The probate court ordered a review of the guardianships. The Department of Health and Human Services prepared a guardianship review report, identifying several concerns with the guardianships. The concerns included: PT had been found guilty of child neglect of her own children, including while the guardianships were in place; ER and GR, as well as PT’s own children, all had poor hygiene and truancy issues; GR needed but was not receiving mental-health treatment; there had been substance abuse and domestic violence issues in the home; and PT’s housing was unsafe. Id at *1. The probate court held a hearing and ordered that PT’s guardianship over ER and GR was terminated. PT appealed.
PT claimed that the probate court could not terminate the guardianship without first implementing a corrective plan. The Michigan Court of Appeals rejected that claim. However, the Court of Appeals did find a technical defect in the probate court’s ruling. While the probate court had generally considered the “best interests of the child” factors listed in MCL 700.5101(a), the probate court had not explicitly stated its findings and conclusions as to each factor on the record. The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the probate order, ordering the probate judge to re-run the hearing, consider each best interests factor, and explicitly state its findings and conclusions as to each factor on the record. In this regard, minor guardianship proceedings are identical to child custody proceedings. This ruling is significant because it provides clarity regarding the legal procedure that must be followed in order to remove a minor child from a problematic guardianship.