A controversial guardianship case in Macomb County has settled, with the guardianship company involved agreeing to end operations.
Caring Hearts Michigan Inc. and owner Catherine Kirk agreed the company also will legally dissolve by the end of the year, according to a news release Thursday from the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, which intervened in the case last year.
Kirk and the company’s employees also are permanently barred from operating any other guardianship or conservatorship entity, it states.
The financial aspects of the settlement are subject to a confidentiality agreement.
Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office learned Caring Hearts Michigan, an in-home care company that Kirk owned, and a law firm owned in part by Kirk’s husband billed nearly $400,000 in about six months on the case.
Judge Kathryn George appointed Caring Hearts Michigan as guardian and conservator for Robert Lee Mitchell and Barbara Delbridge, despite a petition submitted by the couple’s daughter and stepdaughter. Family members said they were kept away from the couple.
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Nessel’s office was concerned about the “web of connections” between Caring Hearts Michigan, which Kirk owned, and Executive Care, the 24-hour, in-home care company owned by Kirk and the law firm Kirk, Huth, Lange & Badalamenti PLC, which is owned in part by Kirk’s husband.
Caring Hearts Michigan hired Executive Care to provide in-home care for the couple and the law firm to provide legal advice. In about six months, the release states, the three entities billed nearly $400,000, almost 72% of that for Executive Care.
“Our involvement in this case revealed what we feared: fiduciaries with a clear financial conflict of interest who billed a shocking amount of money in a relatively short period of time,” Nessel said.
“The law is very clear on this issue. The court shall not appoint as guardian an agency, public or private, that financially benefits from directly providing housing, medical, mental health or social services to the legally incapacitated individual. In fact, the Estates and Protected Individuals Code specifically prohibits certain financial self-dealing by the guardian with respect to the protected individual,” she said.
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According to the stipulated order for permanent injunction, the parties acknowledge the agreement has no bearing on whether a criminal investigation is initiated or whether criminal charges are sought by the Attorney General’s Office or any other law enforcement agency or prosecuting authority.
The order is dated Monday and signed by a probate court judge in Oakland County.
Nessel added in the release that it is “incumbent on the courts to ensure that the state’s guardianship system is providing properly for the vulnerable and that the court-appointed guardians and conservators fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities to those in their custody.”
She said her office continues to look for similar instances of self-dealing and will take action.