Guardians are court-appointed advocates who use their “substituted judgment” for the benefit of their incapacitated wards, often frail elderly people suffering from dementia, or people severely impaired by accident or illness.
The Legislature is considering several bills to step up oversight and regulation of court-appointed guardians.
Unfortunately, investigative reporters have found egregious anecdotes of guardians who have milked their wards’ estates by charging exorbitant fees, and occasionally allowing the vulnerable to languish.
The Post’s John Pacenti described the mindset of the bad actors: “Litigate, isolate, medicate and take the estate,” he wrote, quoting Dr. Sam Sugar, an activist.
In 15 counties around the state, including Palm Beach County since 2011, clerks and comptrollers have assigned auditors to review guardians’ charges. But that’s a small fraction of the state.
Anthony Palmieri, with the Palm Beach County Clerk and Comptroller’s Office of Inspector General, audits guardians’ fees here. About 2,800 individuals locally have court-appointed guardians, and their assets are worth about $500 million, he said.
Since 2011, 700 wards’ cases have been audited, Palmieri said, and $4.1 million in fraud, unsubstantiated disbursements, and missing or lost assets has been discovered, he said.
Bills before the Legislature, developed with the help of activists, the Florida Bar and court clerks, should improve the situation statewide, he said.
HB 1225 / SB 1226 would add oversight and consumer protections by creating a new Statewide Public Guardianship Office under the Department of Elder Affairs, and giving it more authority to take complaints, and monitor and discipline guardians.
HB 5 / SB 366 would clarify standards for who can serve as a guardian; make it easier to end guardianship once incapacitation is over; spell out how guardians are to be paid; and allow for mediation in disputes, to minimize attorneys’ fees.
Do you think these bills will help Florida weed out the bad actors from its guardianship program?
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Can better oversight cure Florida’s guardianship abuses?