Guardianship and Alternatives

The Center for Social Gerontology
2307 Shelby Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48103 tel: 734 665-1126 fax: 734 665-2071


The Center for Social Gerontology, Inc. (TCSG), since its inception in 1972, has been a non-profit research, training and social policy organization dedicated to promoting the individual autonomy of older persons and advancing their well-being in society.

Since the mid-1980's, TCSG has devoted special attention to the issue of guardianship and older Americans because the imposition of guardianship can strip a person of all their decision-making rights. Thus, guardianship can be a major threat to individual autonomy. However, TCSG recognizes that guardianship is essential in certain situations when a person lacks the capacity to make decisions on their own behalf.

As a result of TCSG's concerns about guardianship and the manner in which it is imposed and utilized, we have conducted numerous studies of various aspects of the guardianship issue, including a number of landmark studies and projects. These studies have included an analysis of how the guardianship system operates in the courts, a number of studies and projects on the use of mediation in guardianship cases, and a number of studies which have examined how to improve the quality of a new industry we call "guardianship service providers."

TCSG also works extensively for changes in the guardianship systems in various states, as well as for the adoption of standards for guardianship service providers.

This web site on Guardianship & Alternatives was created to provide information on guardianship and alternatives, including links to TCSG's studies and materials, policy recommendations, and links to relevant articles on guardianship and guardianship service providers. This site will be updated regularly with new information.

Brochures online for "Considering Mediation" in Situations in Which Guardianship is Being Considered for Older Persons OR Caregivers for Older Persons are Facing Difficult Decisions

The Center for Social Gerontology (TCSG) has for over a decade been pioneering the use of mediation in cases in which guardianship is being considered for older persons. In the past few years, TCSG has broadened the use of mediation to include cases in which caregivers for older persons are encountering difficulties in making decisions with and for older persons, particularly when a number of family members are involved. During the past two years, TCSG has worked with colleagues in Michigan, Georgia and Vermont on pilot projects using mediation in caregiver situations, under a grant from the federal Administration on Aging. As a part of the latter project, TCSG has prepared two brochures for use in these projects to assist families and professionals in understanding when and how mediation might be used in these situations. The brochures also provide useful information for persons interested in considering establishing similar programs in other geographic locations. The brochures are titled: Considering Guardianship for Someone You Care About? Consider Mediation and Caring for an Older Person and Facing Difficult Decisions? Consider Mediation. The two brochures are now available for viewing online, each in pdf format, on TCSG's Mediation & Aging site by clicking here

Michigan: Guardian system overrun by abuse; People lose their rights quickly and without necessity, report says

A Detroit Free Press story on October 25, 2003 stated the following: Elderly people are routinely stripped of basic rights in court hearings lasting just three to five minutes. They usually aren't present. They almost never have attorneys. Those are among the findings of a new report examining how guardians are appointed by judges to make life decisions for elderly, young and disabled people. The report, obtained by the Free Press this week in advance of its statewide release, is based on a three-year study by Michigan Protection & Advocacy Services Inc. and law students at Wayne State University, who monitored guardianship hearings and studied cases in probate courts in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Genesee counties. The report comes as a state audit of five probate courts, released October 24th, found widespread abuses by court-appointed conservators entrusted with the finances of young, elderly and disabled people. As a result, the Michigan Supreme Court said it will audit conservator cases in every probate court in the state and could pursue prosecutions. A similar recommendation for education about guardianships was made in 1998 by the Michigan Supreme Court Task Force on Guardianships and Conservators. Like many made by the group, it was never implemented. Meanwhile, guardians continue to be appointed. For the full story, click here. Another Detroit Free Press story published on Oct. 24th, is immediately below.

Michigan: State to probe probate courts; Widespread abuses by conservators found

According to an October 24, 2003 report in the Detroit Free Press: 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. The audit says conservators -- family members as well as professionals like lawyers -- engaged in self-dealing, paid bills late, didn't account for how they spent money, borrowed money with interest-free loans and bought things for themselves. The Supreme Court, which oversees the probate system, is "profoundly concerned" by the findings, spokeswoman Marcia McBrien said on October 23rd. The audit, being released on October 24th by the state Auditor General, says conservators appointed by probate judges in Wayne, Washtenaw, Calhoun, Jackson and Huron counties routinely filed inaccurate accountings. And it says safeguards the courts use to monitor conservators are ineffective. "The State Court Administrator's Office is going to send an auditor to each court to review each file identified in this survey," McBrien said. "In addition, the court will very shortly conduct random audits on all of the probate courts in the state." Criminal prosecutions could result; misbehavior by attorneys could be reported to the state Attorney Grievance Commission, and chief judges could be replaced, McBrien said. "We'll do anything the situation calls for," McBrien said. 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. They are required to fill out a form when they get a case detailing the assets. Then they must fill out an annual accounting. To read the full news story, click here. To access the 45-page Auditor General's report, in pdf format, click here.

MISPLACED TRUST | Guardians in the District: Under Court, Vulnerable Became Victims; Attorneys Who Ignored Clients or Misspent Funds Rarely Sanctioned

The Washington Post on June 15 and 16, 2003 published a two part series titled Misplaced Trust: Guardians in the District, which examined the serious flaws in the guardianship system in the District of Columbia. The articles are very compelling indictments of the guardianship system. The article on June 15th stated: The court's probate division, which is mandated to care for more than 2,000 elderly, mentally ill and mentally retarded residents, has repeatedly allowed its charges to be forgotten and victimized, an investigation by The Washington Post has found. Chaotic record-keeping, lax oversight and low expectations in this division of the court have created a culture in which guardians are rarely held accountable. They are often handed new work even when they have ignored their charges or let them languish in unsafe conditions. ... The Post's review of more than 10 years of case dockets and hundreds of court files, as well as interviews with more than 200 judges, attorneys, and clients and their families, found hundreds of cases where court-appointed protectors violated court requirements. Since 1995, one of five guardians has gone years without reporting to the court. Some have not visited their ailing charges. In more than two dozen cases, guardians or conservators have taken or mishandled money. Neglectful caretakers are rarely disciplined, D.C. bar records show. Even when they have been caught stealing or cheating clients, attorneys can go as long as nine years before they are punished. See also the sidebar information included with the articles. To access the June 15th article, click here. To access the second article, published on June 16th, click here. To access a follow-up article on June 18th in which the Chief Judge of the D.C. court said reforms were being implemented, click here.

Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing transcripts online on "Guardianships Over the Elderly"

The transcripts of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing of February 11, 2003 on the topic Guardianships Over the Elderly: Security Provided or Freedoms Denied? is now online. This hearing examined the guardianship issue by focusing on the outrageous guardianship actions taken against Mollie Orshansky. The hearing then moved to a discussion of alternatives to guardianship, including the use of mediation, with testimony by Penelope Hommel, Co-Director of The Center for Social Gerontology and elder law attorney A. Frank Johns of North Carolina, among others. The full testimony of all the witnesses is available online by clicking here and then scrolling down to the 2/11/03 hearing.

Utah Office of Public Guardian - Program Evaluation; Report by TCSG

The Utah legislature created the Utah Office of Public Guardian in July, 1999 and included in the law a requirement that the Office obtain a program evaluation which contained recommendations for future directions for the Office. The Utah Department of Human Services contracted with The Center for Social Gerontology (TCSG) to conduct this evaluation, based on TCSG's experience and expertise in the guardianship field, including TCSG's development of "standards" for guardianship programs, as well as TCSG's objectivity. The 104 page report prepared by TCSG was based on extensive interviews and reviews of program operations. The report contains two sections: 1) program components, which assesses what the Office of Public Guardian does; and 2) Office structure, which focuses on the context in which these program components are implemented. Separate categories within each section are followed by specific recommendations for future directions. This report was completed by TCSG in September, 2001, and has been provided to both the executive and legislative branches of the Utah government for their use in setting future directions for the Office of Public Guardian. We are pleased to make the report available online so that other states can also benefit from Utah's experience and from the recommendations in the report. We are also very pleased to have been able to assist the state of Utah in this endeavor. As we note in the report, "our overall impression of the Utah Office of Public Guardian was very positive." To access the full report, in pdf format, click here.

TCSG Publishes Major Report: "Evaluation of Mediation as a Means of Resolving Adult Guardianship Cases"

On November 19, 2001, The Center for Social Gerontology (TCSG) published a major report which describes the use of mediation in cases in which guardianship over older persons was being pursued. TCSG, in the early 1990s, pioneered the use of mediation as a non-adversarial means of addressing the complex personal, financial and related issues which often precipitate the filing of petitions for guardianship of older persons by family members, friends or private guardianship organizations. The new TCSG study found that mediation appeared to be effective in helping disputing parties reach agreements in three-quarters of the cases in which it was used. Further, older persons, family members, program administrators and mediators were found to believe that mediation in these adult guardianship cases was effective in finding better or more satisfactory resolutions such as fewer guardianships, limited rather than full guardianships, or less restrictive alternatives to guardianship. The approximately 140 page report presents the conclusions reached in a study by TCSG of adult guardianship mediation in Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin and Oklahoma. The report, funded by a grant from the State Justice Institute (SJI), presents a detailed description of adult guardianship mediation programs in these four states, followed by a summary of the results of a participant survey performed at two of the sites, and ends with a discussion of the conclusions and recommendations reached as a result of the study. Printed copies of the full study are available for a fee by contacting TCSG at 734 665-1126 or at A copy of the press release describing the study may be downloaded by clicking here. A copy of the full report, in pdf format, may be downloaded by clicking here.

Michigan Guardianship Ombudsman Project Not Funded by Legislature; Ombudsman Headed Back to Appeals Court

According to an article on April 25, 2001 in the Detroit Free Press, Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Donald Owens, who was appointed just seven months ago to be the state's first Guardianship Ombudsman, is going back to the bench. Owens had been appointed to this position by the Michigan Supreme Court in response to numerous problems in the operation of "professional" guardianship programs in the state. However, the legislature had never appropriated funds for the Guardianship Ombudsman position, and now it appears that it will not do so for the coming year. As a result, the Guardianship Ombudsman position will cease to exist as of May 1st. Many of the problems in the "professional" guardianship system in the state were highlighted in articles by Wendy Wendland-Bowyer of the Free Press (see below). Click here for April 25th Free Press article.

Highly Regarded Michigan Guardianship Program Cannot Afford to Stay Open

In an April 11, 2001 article in the Detroit Free Press, writer Wendy Wendland-Bowyer reports that Lutheran Social Services of Michigan is going to phase out its guardianship services during the next year because the service is too costly to pay for itself. Lutheran Social Services, which has a reputation for providing high quality guardianship services, says it lost about $300,000 in the past four years serving as a guardianship agency for about 200 persons. Many of the persons for whom the agency served as guardian were indigent and, therefore, cost the agency money to serve them, including those who were in nursing homes and on Medicaid, for whom the agency was reimbursed about $60 per month, at most. The article highlights the fact that guardianship service providers who try to live up to the standards The Center for Social Gerontology recommends (see below) find it almost impossible to do so under current funding mechanisms. Click here for Free Press article.


On April 7, 2001, the Rocky Mountain News published a set of articles which detailed the very serious problems with the way guardianships are being handled in Denver. This series highlighted the need for reforms in the guardianship system and the way that "professional guardians" operate in the state. The complete set of articles may be accessed from this site, as follows:

For How These Stories Were Reported click here.

For People in this Story click here.

For The Probate Pit click here.

For Stolen Blind click here.

For Footing the Bill click here.

For History of Denver's Probate System click here.

For How the Guardianship Process Works click here.

Illinois Guardianship Reform Project Report Available Online

The Illinois Guardianship Reform Project on March 23rd issued a detailed report documenting the findings and recommendations of its Task Force for improving the adult guardianship system in the state. Included in the report are plans for implementation of key reforms, including new legislation currently being introduced with bipartisan support. Senator Kathleen Parker (R-29) is the lead sponsor, with Senate co-sponsors Lisa Madigan (D-17) and Barack Obama (D-13). In the House, supporters include Representatives Kevin McCarthy (D-37), Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25) and Patricia Reid Linder (R-65). For the full report, click here.

Michigan Guardianship Reform? Reports. Responses to Free Press expose'. Results?

In response to a scandal in 1997 involving actions of Guardian, Inc., a guardianship services program in Detroit, the Michigan Supreme Court created a Task Force to review problems in the guardianship system in the state and to make recommendations for reforms. A draft report of the Task Force was completed and resulted in a January 28, 1998 Detroit Free Press story. In May, 2000, the Free Press published a three part expose' titled "Who's Watching the Guardians?" (see full series below). This series prompted a number of actions, including a proposed series of amendments to the state's guardianship rules issued in late May, 2000 by the Michigan Supreme Court. See June 16, 2000 Free Press story about the rules, on which comments may be made to the Supreme Court until September 1st, after which the Court apparently will hold public hearings. Then, during the week of June 19th, two bills were introduced in the Michigan legislature to address some of the issues raised in the Task Force draft report and in the Free Press expose'. One bill (HB 5919), introduced by Representative Andrew Richner (R), a member of the Task Force who had introduced similar legislation in 1998 which failed to be acted on, would address some of the financial problems found in the guardianship system. A second bill (HB 5121), introduced by Representative Gary Woronchak (D), would require guardianship service provider companies to do a better job of accounting for their handling of wards interests. Both bills were assigned to the Committee on Family and Civil Law, which Richner chairs; hearings are expected in fall, according to Richner. See June 23rd Free Press story. To check on the status of the legislation go to the Michigan Legislature site. The lingering question is whether all this activity will change anything about the way guardianship services providers operate.

Checks & Imbalances: Guardianship Service Provider Abuses in Arizona

On June 15, 2000, the Phoenix NewTimes published a story by Paul Rubin that detailed the abuses of a professional guardianship service provider (GSP) in Arizona. As the headline of the story states, "Checks & Imbalances: How the state's leading fiduciary helped herself to the funds of the helpless," the story provides details of a number of situations in which wards of the GSP had their funds taken by the GSP. Read the full story here. Also, read more on the same case from a January 20, 2000 NewTimes story here. A September 8, 1993 story titled "As Helpless As Children" by the same reporter described abuses by other GSPs in Arizona; read the story here, and a related story titled "The Forgotten Court" here. Together, these stories demonstrate a pattern of abuses by Arizona GSPs that span a decade.

Who's Watching The Guardians? - Detroit Free Press Investigative Series

The Detroit Free Press, on May 24, 25 and 26, 2000, published a major investigative series by Wendy Wendland-Bowyer titled " Who's Watching the Guardians?" This excellent series examined the activities of guardianship service providers (GSPs) in Michigan and found that "too often, there's evidence that guardians and conservators in Michigan's probate court system aren't caring for anyone's interests but their own." The report is a searing indictment of the actions of many GSPs and validates many of the findings of The Center for Social Gerontology in our research on the issue of GSPs. The report clearly documents the need for reforms in the systems under which GSPs operate in Michigan and, undoubtedly, in other states, as well. The full three-part series may be accessed by clicking on each part. Part 1, and Part 2, Part 2A, Part 2B, Part 3, Part 3A, Part 3B, editorial, and letters to Editor.

The National Study to Assess and Improve the Quality of Guardianship Service Providers

The Center for Social Gerontology received a foundation grant in 1996 to conduct a first-ever, multi-year national study of the practices of Guardianship Service Providers (GSPs), i.e., non-family guardians. The overall goals of the study are to learn about the practices and characteristics of GSPs in order to develop needed policy recommendations and "best practice" standards. Results of the study are expected in late 2000, together with recommendations for actions to ensure quality in GSPs. For more information on the study, click here.

TCSG Guidelines for Guardianship Service Provider Programs

In the late 1980's The Center for Social Gerontology (TCSG) conducted a study of Guardianship Service Provider (GSP) programs and found a serious need for standards to ensure quality in GSPs. As a result, TCSG prepared two reports which have received wide circulation and use in states across the country: Preliminary Guidelines for GSPs, published in 1987; and Surrogate Decisionmaking for Adults - Model Standards to Ensure Quality Guardianship & Representative Payeeship Services, published by a U.S. House committee in 1989. These reports are available from TCSG by ordering from our publications page.

Use of Mediation in Guardianship Cases

In the early 1990s, The Center for Social Gerontology (TCSG) pioneered the use of mediation in cases in which guardianship had been petitioned for or was being considered. Throughout the 1990s, TCSG piloted a number of guardianship mediation projects, developed guardianship mediation materials, conducted numerous mediation trainings, and is currently conducting a number of studies of the use of mediation in guardianship cases. TCSG has developed a highly praised manual on guardianship mediation as well as two videos on this topic. For more information, go to our mediation page.

TCSG Guardianship Studies and Publications

The Center for Social Gerontology (TCSG) has conducted a number of landmark studies of guardianship systems, alternatives to guardianship, and the use of mediation in guardianship cases. TCSG's 1994 National Study of Guardianship Systems: Findings & Recommendations remains a cornerstone of work on this issue. TCSG's comprehensive Guardianship & Alternatives: A Guide to Personal, Health Care & Financial Management Options, published in 1995, is an excellent resource for practitioners. These reports are available from TCSG by ordering from our publications page.

The Center for Social Gerontology, Inc.
2307 Shelby Avenue  Ann Arbor, MI  48103
Tel: (734) 665-1126  Fax: (734) 665-2071

Last updated March, 2004