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Appointed Jacksonville attorney accused of elderly exploitation

A Jacksonville attorney has been accused of misusing over $100,000 in funds belonging to older individuals. In a story that illustrates the need for people to have a quality estate plan, an attorney who was appointed as guardian for several elderly residents of Jacksonville allegedly transferred funds between different accounts, and used some for her own benefit and that of her friends.

The Florida Department of Children and Families conducted a three-month investigation into an attorney appointed to act as guardian for elderly individuals in the Jacksonville area, and turned the results over to the State's Attorney's Office. The investigation found that the lawyer made payments out of one her ward's accounts, including over $32,000 for two cars, and a home valued at $200,000. Further, it is alleged that a handicap bathtub was installed in the home for over $5,000, and that the sum was paid twice, from two different accounts belonging to the attorney's wards. The elderly woman to whom the money belonged never lived in the house, as she was residing in an assisted living facility. However, the investigators say that a friend of the appointed guardian was living in the house. Finally, there are also records of alleged transfers between accounts belonging to different individuals for whom the lawyer was appointed guardian.

Though most court-appointed guardians take their job very seriously and try to act in the interest of their wards, people living in Florida should be aware that sometimes this kind of exploitation occurs. The story makes it clear why estate planning goals should not only include how to avoid taxes and distribute property after death, but also should provide for someone trusted to watch over the planner's finances in case of incapacity.

There are several ways to do this, including use of trusts and powers of attorney. The most important thing is that people formulating an estate plan think very carefully about who they would trust to handle their money. As can be seen from the above case, leaving the assignment of a guardian to chance can have devastating consequences.

Source: Jackonville.com, "Jacksonville attorney accused of exploiting her elderly wards for more than $100,000," Charles Broward, April 25, 2013

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