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Florida state senator files bill to more closely watch guardians

A state senator from the west coast of Florida is sponsoring a bill that promises to help clerks of court keep a closer eye on individuals who serve as professional guardians for elderly and disabled people. The senator appears to believe that it too easy for guardians to exploit their charges, and he is attempting to correct the situation.

The new bill would give clerks of court the ability to audit the finances and criminal histories of professional guardians. It also promises to allow them to be removed from cases where exploitation appears to be occurring.

The idea for the bill may stem from a high-profile case in the senator's home town, in which a local television news station uncovered what it said was a case of financial exploitation by a professional guardian. The news station alleged that this guardian charged hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to her clients over the course of two years, without performing the duties which she claimed she was engaged in for those hours. Further, the report claimed that courts routinely approved the sales of the guardian's wards' homes without certified appraisals, and that the sales were funneled through a colleague's business.

Although losing control of one's affairs may be frightening, planning may allow some control as proper estate plans will also have provisions for the testator's incapacity. Documents such as powers of attorney and living wills can help in mapping out how one will be taken care of if such incapacity occurs. Furthermore, planning for guardianship in advance may prevent a judge from appointing a stranger to make decisions. The loss of freedom involved in adult guardianship can be somewhat alleviated if the person appointed as guardian is a trusted family member or friend.

While there are many very good and ethical professional guardians, there are also some that take advantage of their vulnerable clients. Everyone who has a loved one suffering from diminished capacity should explore all their legal options so as to ensure someone they trust is appointed as a guardian.

Source: sunshinestatenews.com, "Jeff Brandes' Bill Would Help Keep Unscrupulous Guardians in Check," Nancy Smith, Jan. 15, 2013

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