Florida Guardianship: What You Need to Know

By Sherri Graham, President Florida State Guardianship Association

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Guardians are people who have the legal authority (and duty) to care for the personal and property interests of another person that is incapacitated due to young or old age, mental health issues or a disability.

An elderly parent with dementia whose
children cannot provide proper care due
to careers, distance or their own disability,
or, a senior who is being exploited by unscrupulous financial advisers, contractors, etc. would likely be well served by a guardianship.

A concerned parent may want to take
over for an adult child who is incapable of making good decisions due to substance abuse.

Often it is a precipitating incident that causes family members, health care workers, clergymen, or a professional to initiate the guardianship proceedings.

What’s involved?

If a loved one needs guardianship, the legal process may seem overwhelming for the uninitiated. Usually, the first step is to select a guardianship attorney, who files a Petition to Determine Incapacity. The court then appoints three people to serve as an examining committee and sets an evidentiary hearing.

Each committee member meets with the ward, or person in possible need of a guardian, to evaluate capacity, then gives the court their report.

A Petition for Appointment of Guardian then asks the court to appoint a guardian. One can file a petition asking that the court assign a family member as a non-professional/family guardian. Otherwise, a professional guardian can be appointed.

Either way, the guardian must have undergone a rigorous training program and must continuously update their education. The guardian is compensated based on what the judge determines is an appropriate rate, which varies widely.

Sometimes a guardianship dispute can become contentious if family members don’t agree on the best course of action for their loved one or their property. It can also be an expensive process; a guardianship attorney can inform one about the costs and guide one through the process.

Fortunately, there is strong guardianship oversight in Florida. The Office of Public & Professional Guardians (OPPGinfo@elderaffairs.org) regulates, disciplines, registers and educates professional guardians, and appoints public guardians for those who can’t afford the professional ones.

Reach the Investigative Services for the Department of Elder Affairs at (850) 414-2142.

The nonprofit Florida State Guardianship Association is composed of guardians, attorneys, care providers, fiduciaries, social workers, nurses, court personnel and others who meet regularly for education, training, networking and development in their communities. The FSGA may be contacted at floridaguardians.com.

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