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Grandmother just wanted a wheelchair ramp, but ended up being put under guardianship

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    DETROIT, MI (WXYZ) — After a fall in her home, 78-year-old Bessie Owens said she just needed some help getting a wheelchair ramp installed. Instead, the long-time Detroit resident ended up being put under guardianship in the probate courts – where she was declared legally incapacitated.

When you’re put under guardianship and conservatorship, you can no longer make any legal, medical or financial decisions.

That’s why Owens says she wants to know why Adult Protective Services workers petition the court to put her under guardianship and conservatorship, instead of helping her get what she really needed.

Owens needs a walker to get around, but she’s still fiercely independent. She struggles with osteoarthritis, but Bessie says she is more than capable of handling her own medical and financial affairs.

“I know how to tap into resources in my neighborhood and beyond,” Bessie told 7 Investigator Heather Catallo. “And I think I should have some input into my life daily.”

That’s why the long-time Detroiter is furious that an Adult Protective Services worker petitioned the Wayne County Probate Court last May to place Bessie under guardianship and conservatorship.

“Did you have any notice that a guardianship case had been opened about you?” Catallo asked.

“No,” said Bessie.

“Nothing in writing?” asked Catallo.

“Nothing in writing,” Bessie responded.

This all started last year when Bessie says she fell two times and ended up in the hospital.

Bessie says on her own, she arranged for in-home caregivers, but she still needed a ramp to bypass her front steps with her walker.

“Without the ramp, I could not get outside to transact business and that kind of stuff,” said Bessie.

Someone contacted Adult Protective Services for a welfare check, and then Bessie says an APS investigator named Tresna Tupper came into her home uninvited.

“That’s intrusion,” said Bessie.

Tupper then filed petitions for guardianship and conservatorship with the Wayne County Probate Court, saying Bessie is “medically frail” and “unable to manage her affairs.”

Court records show Tupper even wrote under penalty of perjury that she couldn’t find Bessie’s adult children to tell them about the guardianship – even though the 7 Investigators easily found Bessie’s daughter on Facebook.

Her daughter, a Wayne County employee, confirms no one from APS or the courts ever contacted her. Tupper also typed the wrong address for APS on the petitions, as well as on the petition in another case reviewed by the 7 Investigators.

Legal experts say Owens’ family would have had priority under the law to become a guardian, if one was needed.

“Your guardian is making some very intimate decisions about everything about your life,” said Nicole Shannon, Systemic Advocacy Attorney from the Michigan Elder Justice Initiative.

Shannon also says, “Michigan law requires that adult children be notified of a petition for guardianship and presumptive heirs be notified of a petition for conservatorship. That notice has to be in writing and served either in person or through the mail.”

If a person filing a petition is unable to locate the adult children or presumptive heirs, they can ask the court for special permission to notify them through publication or some other method. That is done by filing an affidavit under penalty of perjury with the court showing that despite diligent efforts, they could not determine the whereabouts of the person.

Diligent effort typically includes asking known friends or family members, as well as conducting an internet search. There should not be a final ruling until all parties have received their notice.

Unfortunately, when family members do find out about guardianship or conservatorship after the fact, it can be too late. Significant decisions have already been made, and there must often be a second series of court hearings to try to unwind what has already happened.”

“I do not need no one to oversee my finances, or a guardian. I’m mentally capable of transacting my day-to-day business. I do not need that. I need a ramp to be able to leave my home when I need to,” said Bessie.

Even after she learned of the guardianship case, Bessie says she did not have transportation for court so she could not attend the hearing last summer.

Tupper asked the court to appoint Whitehouse Guardian Services, which is owned by Stacey White-Smith.

Court records show Tupper has asked the court to give at least nine guardianship cases this year to Whitehouse Guardian Services.

Tupper also nominated a lawyer named Cynthia Williams to be Bessie’s conservator to take over her social security income.

Court records show Tupper and Williams are also listed together on at least eight conservatorship cases since 2018.

Williams and White-Smith deny they have any sort of relationship with APS investigator Tupper.

On her own, Bessie contacted a local non-profit who installed the ramp for her in August.

Guardian Stacey White-Smith would not talk to us on camera, but she did admit she’s only seen Bessie two times since she was appointed guardian in June.

Bessie says when she tried to get ahold of White in September she couldn’t, and later found out White was out of the country.

The 7 Investigators started asking questions why Bessie Owens was put under guardianship in August.

Now, both the guardian and the conservator have told they court that they want out of the case, and say Bessie doesn’t need a guardian or conservator.

“Have you met your conservator?” Catallo asked Bessie.

“No. Never,” said Bessie.

Even as she seeks to terminate her involvement, court records show the conservator wants to get paid $687.50 for five and half hours of work.

We caught up with conservator Cynthia Williams after a court hearing for another case where she and White-Smith are both in charge of a different ward.

“Why are you trying to charge her $687 when she only has $6500?” asked Catallo.

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