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Florida Leads with Elder Abuse Guardianship Legislation

With numerous reports of abuse of incapacitated seniors by court-appointed professional guardians, the Florida House has sent a bill to the governor that would for the first time exert regulatory authority over this growing industry.

According to the Palm Beach (FL) Post article “Florida guardianship reform passes; seniors protest at courthouse,” the Legislature’s action follows newspaper reports of professional guardians who deplete the savings of incapacitated seniors through their own fees. In cases of guardianships, seniors determined by the court to be incapacitated will frequently forfeit all of their legal rights to make their own decisions. When there is no relative available, or when family members can’t agree on how to proceed, a judge has the authority to appoint a professional guardian to make decisions on finances, medical care and housing for the senior.

The legislation creates an Office of Public and Professional Guardians and, for the first time, creates standard practices and rules for professional guardians. It also gives the new office strong enforcement power, which includes the ability to revoke a guardian’s registration.

Right now in Florida, anyone can become a professional guardian with these powers over a senior by merely submitting to a credit and criminal background check and 40 hours of training. There are many more of these professional guardians in the state. There were only 108 in 2003, but that number grew to 457 last year, according to the Department of Elder Affairs.

The bill, which has passed the Senate, received support from advocate group Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, as well as Governor Rick Scott and the Florida State Guardianship Association.

Legislators said that with so many retirees coming to Florida, they need to feel safe that their estates aren’t going to dissolve at the hands of unscrupulous guardians and their representatives.

Reference: Palm Beach (FL) Post (February 24, 2016) “Florida guardianship reform passes; seniors protest at courthouse”

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