Florida Chief Justice Jorge Labarga announced the creation of a task force that will work on guardianship issues facing Florida’s courts. Labarga noted that few decisions are more challenging to a judge than removing a person’s rights because they are no longer capable of making decisions independently.
The Palm Beach Post, Judge LaBarga’s hometown newspaper, reported extensively on guardianship, particularly how one judge and his wife benefitted. The news stories resulted in an overhaul of the system in Palm Beach County courts, and Judge Martin Colin announced his retirement after the stories appeared. Judge Colin’s wife Elizabeth Savitt continues to serve as a professional guardian despite growing complaints by the families of her incapacitated wards. She has taken tens of thousands of dollars from seniors’ bank accounts prior to judicial approval, the Post discovered.
The newspaper contacted numerous guardianship attorneys, all of whom said the state statute does not permit guardians to take fees prior to judicial approval.
In a news release, Labarga said he organized the work group because guardianship caseloads are increasing in number and complexity. “As Florida grows and ages, we can expect more and more cases dealing with guardianship issues to come into our courts,” the judge said.
Individuals who are judged to be incapacitated by the court are appointed a guardian. If a family member isn’t available, a professional guardian will frequently be appointed and will have total control of the person’s finances, medical decisions, and housing. In Florida and in other states, professional guardians have been found to act in their own best interests rather than those of the incapacitated wards. The families of seniors have often been unable to battle professional guardians, who can hire high-powered attorneys paid for by the incapacitated senior.
State lawmakers have passed laws in the last two legislative sessions to increase the state’s regulation and oversight of guardians.
The group will look at several guardianship issues, like restoration of capacity for the senior or the person placed in a guardianship. The expenses, which are typically fees for the guardian and at least one attorney, will also be addressed. An interim report was due to the Court by October 2017 and a final report is due by September 2018.
Reference: Palm Beach Post (October 24, 2016) “Supreme Court chief justice tackles senior guardianship as complaints mount”