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Florida woman loses legal right to care for husband

After close to 30 years of marriage, it seems logical that a person with dementia might be expected to be cared for by his spouse. However, under Florida law, sometimes courts make decisions that are in what the court deems the best interest of an elderly person that are not in favor of the long-time spouse.

In Sarasota, a couple that met 42 years ago and was married some 11 years later has experienced this problem first-hand. Several years ago, the husband was diagnosed with dementia, which progressively worsened. While the couple's living arrangements were not conventional, as the wife kept a separate residence, she says that she cooked and cleaned and cared for her husband for all those years of marriage. However, the couple got into an argument one morning about a property that was for sale, and the husband cut off all contact with his wife.

The wife attempted to become her husband's permanent guardian, but due to the unconventional living arrangements and the arguments of an ex-son-in-law who also applied for the guardianship, the court appointed a professional guardian to look after the husband's interests.

This situation is, of course, both emotionally difficult and financially expensive. Legal fees and the fees of the guardian are taken from the estate of the incapacitated individual. It illustrates the importance of communicating within a family and making a sound estate plan that specifies exactly what will happen and who will fill what roles when an individual becomes incapacitated.

Proper estate plans will include healthcare directives and powers of attorney as well as wills and possibly trusts to protect assets. The costs of planning in advance pale in comparison to the emotional and financial toll that can be taken if a guardianship proceeding must be pursued through a court. Good estate planning is essential in protecting the wishes of a competent adult from the vagaries of mental illness and legal proceedings.

Source: Tampa Tribune, "Wife not allowed to care for wealthy husband," July 27, 2013