How Guardianship Works in Michigan for Children & Families

Updated

Many families find themselves visiting the probate court for the authority to care for a loved one. In Michigan, probate court appoints guardians for both minors and adults. This can be a tricky and confusing process, especially if you’re not sure of the rules and laws around how guardianship works in Michigan. 

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Guardianships fill in the power vacuum that can happen when an adult loses the ability to make decisions for themselves and when parents become unable to care for their own children. The court can issue orders that assign decision-making powers to another person in both scenarios. 

When the court appoints a guardian, it creates a fiduciary relationship between the guardian and the protected person. This means that the guardian owes the protected person a heightened standard of care.

What Types of Guardianship Exist in Michigan?

Michigan separates fiduciary powers into two main categories: financial and practical care. 

Protective arrangements that give only financial decision-making to someone are called conservatorships. In addition to simply managing bank accounts, conservators can also handle business transactions like selling real estate, hire an attorney to represent the protected person in legal matters, and help dissolve the protected person’s interest in a business or company. 

Perhaps most importantly, conservators create and enact a financial care plan that maximizes the protected person’s assets. If possible, the protected person’s assets should support them throughout their life.

Alternatively, guardians and guardianships focus on practical care. This includes medical and care decision-making. Beyond just consenting to medical treatment, guardians also arrange for suitable living quarters, coordinate any assistance or care providers, and generally handle the logistics of the ward’s overall wellbeing. 

The court can also grant a guardian day-to-day financial decision-making when the protected person has few assets and minimal income, like a monthly Social Security benefit. 

Who Are the Default Guardians for Minor Children, Older Adults, or Adults With Special Needs in Michigan?

When the court considers appointing a guardian for children or adults, it considers candidates based on order of preference established in law. However, the court isn’t obligated to appoint someone simply because they have the highest priority. Instead, the court appoints a guardian best able to care for the respondent. The court can deviate from the priority at the judge’s discretion. 

For adult cases, anyone the respondent nominates has the highest priority level. That nomination can be in a power of attorney, advanced directive, or other writing. After that, the spouse and then other family members have priority.

Parental nominations boost minor guardian nominees to the top of the list. If 14 or older, the minor can also nominate a guardian.

What Forms Do You Need to File for Guardianship in Michigan?

Michigan simplifies the process for people without attorneys through a collection of standard statewide forms. You can access and print the forms for free for both guardianship and conservatorship cases.  

The courts require the use of several of the forms, so be careful if you’re looking at online form-filling services. Sometimes they use older versions or incorrect versions that the court can reject. 

For each case type, you start the case by filing the petition. Note that there are separate petitions for adult and minor guardianship cases. If the court has to reject your case or ask for more information, it slows down your case. 

Guardianship and conservatorship cases impact the rights of others. Therefore, expect to give notice to other people related to the respondent, even if they didn’t have a close emotional relationship. 

How Do You File for Guardianship in Michigan?

You file guardianship cases in the probate court that covers the county where the respondent lives. Conservatorship cases can be filed where the respondent owns the property. Use Michigan’s interactive map to find the correct court and contact information.

To get your case started, file the petition and pay the filing fee at the appropriate court. Each case type also requires that the person asking to be appointed file an Acceptance of Appointment. 

For conservatorship cases, the court appoints a guardian ad litem to represent the respondent's best interests. The court can also order you to file a doctor’s report about the respondent’s condition and appoint a court visitor to interview the respondent. 

The court also needs PC 670, Minor Guardianship Social History in minor guardianship filings. That form provides the court with additional information needed to decide guardianship placement. 

In both types of cases, the court decides whether to appoint a guardian or conservator after holding a hearing. At the hearing, everyone involved in the case can present their evidence regarding the respondent’s need – or lack thereof – for a guardian or conservator. 

How Do You Assign a Guardian for a Minor Child in Michigan?

Parents can participate in the guardianship process and even file the petition for guardianship nominating a guardian. If someone else opens the guardianship case, the parent can file a consent form

For a more short-term option that avoids the court, parents can also sign a delegation of parental authority. Delegations resemble powers of attorney but are specifically for giving someone else the authority to care for a minor child. They automatically expire after six months. 

Finally, consider naming a guardian for your minor children in your will. If both parents die, the court gives priority to anyone nominated by the parents. Nominating a guardian is especially important if you think that multiple family members might fight over who gets to take care of your kids or if you feel strongly about someone serving as guardian. 

For example, suppose you have an estranged relationship with your own parents. In that case, nominating a guardian can help prevent the court from appointing your parents to care for your children if something happens to you.

How Guardianship Works for Minor Children

Guardianship provides a non-parent with the powers of a parent. These powers include deciding where the child lives, goes to school, what medical care they receive, and whether they travel. Guardians can also qualify for public benefits on behalf of the minor.

To appoint a guardian, the court either finds that the parents are unable and unwilling to care for the child or that the parents consent to guardianship. Guardianships last until the child turns 18, but the court can end it sooner. If situations change, the parents or guardian can ask the court to terminate it. 

To obtain guardianship, someone petitions the court by filing the required paperwork. Then, the court holds a hearing where the potential guardian and parents can testify and give evidence regarding their perspectives. 

After a guardian is appointed, the guardian files an annual report with the court and sends a copy to the child’s parents. This allows the court to ensure that the child remains safe and for the parents to stay updated about their child.

The court can also order the child’s parents to pay support to the guardian.

Conservatorship for minor

Conservatorships are rare compared to guardianship because they are only needed when a child receives a large amount of money or property. Conservators receive special court orders that allow them to accept, hold, and manage the assets. However, any use of the assets must be approved by the court. 

How Guardianship Works for Older Adults

Guardianships for older adults protect them from exploitation and ensure they receive the assistance and care needed to stay safe. Guardians receive care and decision-making authority while conservators manage financial responsibilities.

Beyond guardianships and conservatorships, protective proceedings cases can be further broken down into full and limited authority.

Limited guardianships and conservatorships

Older adults often retain some decision-making faculties. As a result, the court limits the guardian and conservator’s powers to reflect only the areas where the protected person experiences a deficit. 

Most importantly, guardianships and conservatorships should not be used when less restrictive options exist or simply because someone suffers a decline in their physical abilities. 

Full guardianships and conservatorships

Sometimes the court grants unlimited powers to the guardian or conservator. This happens when the evidence at the hearing proves that the respondent is entirely incapacitated. A fully incapacitated person lacks any ability to make informed decisions for themselves. This type of incapacity can happen when someone becomes unconscious, suffers from advanced dementia, etc.

How Guardianship Works for Adults With Developmental Disabilities or Special Needs

Guardianships and conservatorships for adults with developmental disabilities or special needs function similarly to those for older adults. Just as age can cause incapacity, so can genetic conditions, mental health concerns, and substance abuse issues. Consequently, the procedure for appointing a guardian is the same. 

Guardianships for adults with special needs come with unique challenges. Rather than only ensuring end-of-life care, guardianships for those with special needs can last decades.

Limited guardianships and conservatorships

Many special needs adults enjoy a high level of independence, making limited protected proceedings an essential tool for them. Under a limited guardianship or conservatorship, the court assigns only specific powers. The protected person keeps the rest of their decision-making abilities. 

As a result, you might see a guardian that handles the logistics of a special needs adult’s living arrangement, but the ward lives independently without in-home care. Or, as often happens, the special needs adult lives with their guardian, who is also their parent, and the guardian includes them in the decision-making process but takes care of the transactions needed for daily life.

Full guardianships and conservatorships

As with older adults, full guardianships and conservatorships are available when the ward lacks any decision-making abilities. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Guardianship in Michigan

If your situation feels more complicated, don’t hesitate to consult an attorney. They can provide tailored advice based on your specific situation. 

How long is temporary guardianship in Michigan?

The court can appoint a temporary guardian for minors for six months. 

In adult guardianship cases, a temporary guardian acts as an interim guardian when there’s an emergency. The temporary guardian can serve until the permanent guardianship process runs its course, which typically takes several weeks.

What’s the difference between guardianship, conservatorship, and custody in Michigan?

The most significant difference between guardianship and custody cases is that guardianship cases give authority to non-parents. Custody cases can divide or clarify the responsibilities that a parent has. Two parents trying to sort out their parenting time or decision-making rights would do so in a custody case or a divorce case. Parents can also get child support orders through custody cases. 

Conservatorship cases give an adult a court order to accept and manage money and property on behalf of a minor. Conservatorship cases only deal with financial issues, so they do not resolve parenting time issues or disputes about where the child lives.

Can you get guardianship without going to court in Michigan?

Only the court can appoint a guardian or conservator. These cases involve taking away the rights of another, so the court acts as an essential safeguard to prevent abuse and exploitation. 

For options not involving the court, consider protective arrangements less restrictive than guardianships and conservatorships. Powers of attorney and advanced directives confer decision-making powers on another person. Additionally, case managers, in-home care providers, and an array of other professionals can fill in and provide services that support independence in older and special needs adults. 

Choosing Your Own Guardian

Guardians provide vital services and care to those who need them. Given a guardian’s power, it makes sense to take advantage of the opportunity to choose your own guardian, both for yourself and your minor children. 

By planning ahead and nominating a guardian, you can ensure that a qualified person who knows and respects your preferences provides your care and decision-making for you if you become unable to do so for yourself. 


Source:

1. “Estates and Protected Individual Code.” Michigan Legislature. Legislature.mi.gov

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