Adult guardianship protects individuals who cannot care for their own well-being due to incapacity or disabilities. The court appoints an adult guardian to care for and make decisions for the ward or the person needing protection. However, there is potential for abuse because the appointed guardian is given authority over the ward’s personal and legal matters or their estate.
Who is qualified to be a guardian?
In Florida, the court may appoint any adult resident to serve as a guardian regardless of whether they are related or unrelated to the ward. The court may also consider those residing outside Florida if they are a blood relative, spouse or an adopted child. An individual may also name someone as their guardian before the need arises.
Generally, convicted felons and individuals who are incapable of performing guardianship duties due to incapacity or illness cannot be a guardian.
How does guardianship abuse happen?
A guardian may assume responsibility for the ward’s well-being, estate or both. To accomplish this, they may be granted access to the ward’s finances, residence and medical treatment. Essentially, a guardian can oversee the protected individual’s entire lifestyle, including what they eat, how they sleep, who can see them and other freedoms.
Complications may arise if the guardian has other interests besides caring for the ward and their estate. One common tactic used by abusers is to transfer the ward’s funds onto their accounts, sometimes disguising their actions as necessary maintenance to the ward’s property. Unfortunately, the guardian’s authority gives them the capacity to mistreat their wards in various ways, whether physically, monetarily, or by neglecting them entirely.
In recent years, guardianship abuse has been a growing problem in Florida because of its lax guardianship procedures. People who are not in need of guardianship may be given one anyhow, making them vulnerable to abuse. These people sometimes lose everything: their homes, savings and even their freedom.
Sadly, even though guardianship intends to protect the individual, it could also be the ticket to losing their freedom. If there is proof of fraud, abuse of authority, or mismanagement of the ward’s estate, the guardian may be dismissed or replaced. Either the ward or a relative may take action by filing a petition in court to remove the guardian.