What to Expect at a Guardianship Hearing
The decision to pursue guardianship of a loved one can be a difficult, but necessary one. Most family members who seek to become a guardian of a vulnerable person do so not because they want to control their loved one’s life, but because they believe that person is at risk, physically or otherwise, without a guardian’s protection. Often, a family member who seeks to become a guardian is unfamiliar with the process, and that can make an already emotional situation even more stressful. In this blog post, we will explain what to expect at a guardianship hearing.
In Michigan, guardianship is a legal relationship in which one party (the guardian) is granted authority to make residential, medical, and other personal decisions for the benefit of an alleged incapacitated person (the ward). In essence, the alleged incapacitated person is losing much of their personal autonomy. Transferring that decision-making power from one person to someone else is not something that Michigan courts take lightly.
Accordingly, when a would-be guardian files a petition for guardianship, the probate court schedules a hearing on the petition, so that the court can determine whether a guardianship is appropriate.
Preparing for the Hearing
Typically, the date for the guardianship hearing is set for about three to four weeks after the petition for guardianship was filed. That allows time for interested parties, including the proposed ward, to receive adequate notice of the hearing, and for a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to be appointed, gather information, and prepare a report to be presented to the court.
What is a GAL? Despite the similarity to the term “guardian,” they do not serve as a guardian or decision-maker for the alleged incapacitated person. Most GALs are attorneys, but they also do not serve as a legal representative for either the alleged incapacitated person or the would-be guardian. Rather, a GAL serves as the “eyes and ears of the court,” gathering information that will assist the judge in making the important decision about whether to impose a guardianship.
Unlike the parties to the proceeding, the GAL is an objective observer who has no personal interest in whether a guardianship is imposed, or who is appointed as guardian. The GAL meets with the alleged incapacitated person to learn about their situation and their wishes, including whether they are willing to have a guardian. The GAL may also speak with other individuals, such as those involved in the vulnerable person’s care, the person who has petitioned for guardianship, and other family members.
Guardianship Hearing: What to Expect
After their investigation the GAL compiles a report of their findings, including those on the important issues of whether the alleged incapacitated person is willing to have a guardian, and whether they agree with the guardian who has been proposed.
During the guardianship court hearing itself, the GAL is often the first person called to speak when the case is called. They may be required to file a written report with the court in advance, but they typically also testify in open court as to their investigation, findings and conclusion about whether the alleged incapacitated person needs a guardian. The GAL can also be cross-examined regarding their findings. The court is entitled to rely on the GAL’s report, even if the information in it would not otherwise be admissible into evidence. The person who is seeking the guardianship may also speak at the hearing, explaining to the court why they believe a guardianship is necessary, giving specific examples if possible.
In some cases, the alleged incapacitated person is willing to have a guardian, and is willing for the guardian proposed to serve in that capacity. In those situations, the guardianship hearing is typically straightforward and brief, about ten minutes. The judge will grant the guardianship, appoint the petitioner or other nominated person as guardian, and issue Letters of Authority which give the new guardian legal power to act on the ward’s behalf.
However, there are also circumstances in which the alleged incapacitated person opposes the guardianship, or opposes the appointment of the proposed guardian. In those cases, the court may need more time and more information to make a decision that is in the best interest of the alleged incapacitated person.
After the Guardianship Hearing
If a guardian is appointed at a hearing in Washtenaw County, he or she will need to attend a brief training that is held periodically at the county courthouse. This hearing typically takes between one and two hours.
If there was an objection to the guardianship or proposed guardian, the court will schedule an evidentiary hearing in which the petitioner for guardianship and the alleged incapacitated person can present testimony and evidence (such as medical records) in support of their respective positions. This evidentiary hearing is usually held within four weeks after the initial hearing.
To learn more about what to expect at a guardianship hearing in Michigan, visit our FAQ about guardianship or watch our video about what happens at a guardianship hearing. If you have more guardianship hearing questions or want to know how to prepare for a guardianship hearing, please contact Suzanne R. Fanning PLLC to schedule a consultation.