WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CBS12) — How many guardians are in the state of Florida?
How many people have been placed under their care?
How much money do they oversee?
In Florida, the simplest questions about guardianship are the hardest
to answer. That's because our state lacks a centralized, statewide
database keeping track of guardianship cases.
And that, some
advocates say, is the first thing that needs to be fixed when
overhauling the system, and cracking down on abuse.
today's day and age, I should be able to push a button and tell you
exactly how many open, and on going cases there are," said Anthony
Palmieri, Deputy Inspector General and Chief Guardianship Investigator
for Palm Beach County.
He said all the information about
guardianships you'd want to know are contained within individual case
files, in separate counties and circuit court systems. Extracting that
data and making sense of it all is no easy task.
part of a high profile investigation of a guardian in Central Florida,"
Palmieri recalls. He said the judge asked how many wards this particular
guardian was overseeing.
"It took me four days to figure out
that number," he said. "Turned out she had 208 wards across 19
different counties. She was petitioning cases from the Panhandle, to
One guardian amassing that many wards -- and
control of their estates -- could have been a red flag if there was a
central database keeping track.
Abuse in the guardianship system is well-documented. The CBS12 News I-Team has highlighted cases of guardians who have been caught stealing money from their wards, and isolating them from their families.
known in some states as conservatorship, is supposed to protect the
elderly and disabled when they can no longer care for themselves. Judges
can appoint a family member, or a professional guardian to oversee
another person's decisions and money. Without proper oversight, bad
actors in the system can take advantage of the people they are being
paid to protect.
"Right now we have a lot of bad stories
about guardians," Palmieri said. "But is that really reflective of the
system as a whole? I don't know the answer to that."
Palmieri, who is the Vice-Chair of Florida's Guardianship Improvement Task Force,
said the first and most important step in fixing the guardianship
system is to create a statewide database to collect basic information.
Beach County has started its own guardianship database where guardians
upload financial reports and keep track of expenditures.
a very powerful tool," Palmieri said. "Not only does it track all
financial information, it also collects demographic information such as
the age of the person under guardianship, their gender, their alleged
incapacity, who petitioned, who is their guardian, do they have a family
guardian, professional guardian, public guardian?"
now, the system in Palm Beach County is voluntary. Members of the task
force received a demonstration and talked about using it as a model for a
Some states, like Minnesota, are already maintaining a centralized record-keeping system.
The I-Team spoke to the managers in charge of it and saw how it works.
Majerus, Branch Audit Manager, said the Minnesota system not only keeps
track of guardians and conservators across 87 counties in the state,
but it can also identify outliers in expenditures and raise red flags
She said since the state implemented the software, bad actors have been put on notice.
percentage of the number of bad audits have gone down," she said. "We
feel the conservators are doing better. They are more educated. They
know we are watching."
Members of Florida's task force have recommended the creation of a statewide database.
But there is some concern among task force members about it, specifically attorneys who work on guardianship cases.
Miller, an attorney who sits on the elder law certification committee
of the Florida Bar, said she worries that putting all this financial
information in one place, where software is constantly monitoring it,
could be an invasion of privacy.
"This is very problematic,"
Miller told the task force in a recent meeting. "When you give your
private information, it's just like Siri or the Internet or when big
brother has information -- what you have done is exposed all your