Last year, a coalition of Floridians traveled to Tallahassee explain how their elderly relatives had been victimized by court-appointed guardians.
Lawmakers got the message.
The Florida Senate on
Tuesday passed legislation changing the way guardians are appointed and
explicitly prohibiting the abuse, exploitation or neglect of an elderly
ward (HB 5).
The bill is now headed to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk. It is widely expected to become law.
Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, a Miami Democrat who co-sponsored the
legislation in the House, said he had heard the “horror stories [from
people] across the state who felt like their loved ones wound up
isolated with everything taken from them and little they could do about
“The reforms in this bill help to improve how guardians are
appointed, better protect the wishes and rights of an incapacitated
person once a guardian assumes power over them and clarify the
responsibilities of guardians,” Rodríguez said.
Sam Sugar, a Miami
physician who founded the advocacy group Americans Against Abusive
Probate Guardianship, called the measure an “an excellent first step.”
comprehensive reform will require the participation of the Supreme
Court of Florida,” Sugar wrote in an email to the Herald/Times. “There
must be consequences when those in charge of enforcing protections fail
to follow the laws of the state and instead subvert them and abuse the
vulnerable under the guise of ‘the best interests’ of ward.”
Under Florida law, judges can appoint guardians for elderly people who cannot manage their own finances.
Guardians must receive 40 hours of training and are paid for their services.
recent years, the number of professional guardians has jumped from 10
to 465, according to the state Department of Elder Affairs. But the
system has also come under intense scrutiny. A December investigation by
the Sarasota Herald-Tribune newspaper found that some guardians had
removed their elderly wards from their homes and sold off their
In response to the newspaper series — and complaints
from constituents like Sugar, who engaged in a costly legal battle for
control of his mother-in-law’s affairs — lawmakers filed a series of
proposals this year aimed at overhauling the state’s guardianship laws.
Among those that gained traction: the proposal by Rodríguez and Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples.
Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, sponsored a similar bill in the Senate.
The proposal won unanimous support of the House earlier this month. It passed out of the Senate in a 40-0 vote on Tuesday.
Senate also voted 40-0 in support of a separate proposal to create an
new Office of Public and Professional Guardians, which would conduct
investigations and take disciplinary action when necessary (SB 1226).
But the bill died Tuesday because the House decided to recess early.
Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, blamed the ongoing budget battle for the bill’s death.
“I’m afraid this is another casualty of the war,” she said.
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Florida Senate approves guardianship overhaul