Woman, deemed incapacitated, prevails in Roscommon guardianship case

·6 min read

Sep. 18—ROSCOMMON — A woman whose family sought to have her status as a ward-of-the-court terminated, after a previous court-appointed guardian was investigated by the Michigan State Police, has prevailed in court.

"She's free as a breeze," Loreli Haddad said of her sister, Kay McGinnis, 82. "Maybe this will give other people trying to do the same thing some hope."

McGinnis has ongoing speech difficulties as the result of a stroke, and deferred comment to her sisters, Haddad, 83, of Roscommon, and Peggy Olsen, 87, of Grayling.

Olsen is currently hospitalized, Haddad said, adding that stress from the ongoing legal case likely exacerbated her older sister's flu-like symptoms.

"I've got to credit the judge though," Haddad said. "He did the right thing."

Probate Court Judge Mark D. Jernigan in August ordered a medical evaluation of McGinnis, in response to a petition filed by Haddad, who'd asked the court to either terminate McGinnis' guardianship or appoint McGinnis as her own guardian.

Haddad filed the petition, she said, after she and her sisters were angered by an accused theft by a previous guardian and believed McGinnis could make her own life decisions.

If all court appointments for McGinnis were terminated, no further contact with the probate court would be required. If McGinnis was allowed to be her own guardian, annual reports on housing, medical services, income and expenses would still be required, but McGinnis would submit these reports herself.

Roscommon County Probate Court Register Debra Willitt confirmed Monday the guardianship would be terminated, likely as soon as Friday, with one caveat — McGinnis' attorney first needed to provide documentation showing an appropriate person had been named her power of attorney.

Haddad said Kay McGinnis planned to name her son, Casey McGinnis, of South Carolina, her POA and relocate to that state to live with him.

The process of moving into, and out of, guardianship has been a lengthy one for McGinnis and her family, fraught with losses both personal and financial.

McGinnis has had four court-appointed guardians since suffering a stroke in 2016, court records show.

She and her family say the initial appointment of McGinnis' longtime partner, John Kutz, as guardian was perhaps warranted, as McGinnis was temporarily unable to care for herself or manage her affairs.

Kutz had McGinnis' best interests at heart, her sisters say, but the situation went awry after he died of liver cancer in 2019.

Jessica Starlin-Ronin, of Cadillac, succeeded Kutz, court records show, but was permitted to voluntarily resign after a family friend and one of McGinnis' caregivers, Mary "Minnie" Lovely, filed a petition with the court, stating a personal TCF Bank savings account wasn't listed in McGinnis' assets.

Lovely did not accuse Starlin-Ronin of wrongdoing, and asked the court to appoint her as McGinnis' guardian. Lovely first became acquainted with McGinnis when she worked as a caregiver for Olsen, McGinnis' older sister.

A judge agreed to the change, court records show, and Lovely, then of Grayling, succeeded Starlin-Ronin.

That appointment soon became mired in problems.

In February, Lovely was arraigned in 82nd District Court, on one felony count of embezzlement of more than $1,000 and less than $20,000 from a vulnerable adult.

Lovely's arraignment followed a Michigan State Police investigation into accusations that Lovely spent nearly $9,000 of McGinnis' money on a Tracfone and lottery tickets, and made large withdrawals from McGinnis' bank account at an ATM located inside an unnamed casino.

Calls to a cell phone number listed for Lovely in court documents were not returned. An 82nd District Court official said Lovely missed a March 2 court hearing, triggering issuance of a failure-to-appear bench warrant.

She remains at large, a staff person with the Roscommon Prosecutor's office confirmed Monday.

Lovely also is accused in court records of not making McGinnis' mortgage payments, which prompted foreclosure proceedings by TCF Bank, for not paying premiums on a life insurance policy which TransAmerica Inc. later canceled, and of not re-securing $900 a month in disability benefits, which temporarily ceased when McGinnis was undergoing Medicaid-covered rehab at a nursing home.

McGinnis' family say they continue to have questions about why the financial discrepancies weren't uncovered by the court.

State law shows that's not the probate court's role.

In Michigan, elected probate court judges appoint guardians and conservators to handle medical, housing and financial decisions for people who, a judge has decided, can no longer make these decisions for themselves.

Judges rely on staff with social service organizations, such as Adult Protective Services and Community Mental Health, to make recommendations, both on who needs a guardian or conservator, and on who should be appointed to the job.

Michigan probate courts are only responsible for monitoring whether guardians and conservators file financial and other documents on time and that these documents are sent to "interested parties" such as McGinnis' sisters.

Family and friends can serve as guardians and conservators, as can professionals, although the pay is often negligible for all but those who serve the wealthy.

It was McGinnis' current guardian, Sheila Englehardt, of St. Helen, who uncovered the unexplained spending.

"I'm looking through this bank statement and I'm seeing Michigan Lottery dot com, Michigan Lottery dot com, Michigan Lottery dot com," Englehardt said. "It was so blatant. It even had Mary Lovely's user name under it."

Englehardt said when she was appointed, McGinnis was paying for groceries with change from a change jar, her cable was shut off, her heat and electric were about to be shut off and her house was in foreclosure.

In March, Englehardt sought and received court permission to sell McGinnis' Stuckey Avenue home for $194,900, to end foreclosure proceedings and protect the equity McGinnis had in the home.

McGinnis' family complained Englehardt paid more for things like storage units and monthly rent than they thought appropriate, and didn't return their phone calls, while Englehardt said she did the best she could for McGinnis.

There was a fire at the first place Englehardt moved McGinnis to — the Brook in Houghton Lake — so McGinnis had to move somewhere else immediately, Englehardt said.

Englehardt said she believes the turmoil McGinnis experienced over the past several years might have been avoided if hospital workers, who in 2016 advised Kutz to seek guardianship, had suggested instead he secure a POA, which is revokable.

If Kutz had secured a POA, it could have been revoked once McGinnis was well enough to make her own decisions, Englehardt said.

"No matter what, I'm happy for her," Englehardt said of the outcome of Monday's hearing. "She has experienced so much. And I was never sure she required a guardian in the first place, but I'm not the one who makes that determination. I just accept the appointments."