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Sometimes, guardianship goes wrong

A court in Florida has reportedly disregarded an elderly woman's "pre-need" plan in favor of the appointment of a professional guardian. The 90-year-old woman allegedly had legal documents that conveyed that she wished to be cared for by a niece in case she became incapacitated.

According to a neighbor, the woman, who lives on the west coast of Florida, kept a clean house and always made herself presentable. She reportedly took walks, gardened and played cards. However, sometime in 2009, the woman called authorities several times to report non-existent burglaries, and the Florida Department of Children and Families, was alerted. Apparently, a local professional guardian asked a court to hold that the woman was incapacitated, and the court appointed the professional guardian to take care of her.

A local non-profit organization says that the guardian allowed the electricity to the woman's home to be shut off, and the organization contacted the woman's niece, who was reportedly named in the pre-need documents. The niece claimed that neither the court nor the guardian ever contacted her, and that when she requested the court appoint her as her aunt's guardian, the court refused.

The elderly woman is now in an assisted living facility, and there are reports of other complaints against the professional guardian involved in this case. In one allegation, the guardian supposedly had a 99-year-old ward incorrectly placed in an Alzheimer's wing of the assisted living facility. The woman's former neighbor said that the older people in her neighborhood are very afraid that the same thing could happen to them.

While it is unclear from the above story what, precisely, the court ruled, and what documents were at issue, it is clear that in many cases it is better that incapacitated people be cared for by someone they trust, rather than a court-appointed stranger. It is important that individuals contemplating their estate plans ensure that they explore all the legal options available to avoid having a court appoint a guardian over them. Powers of attorney, healthcare proxies and other documents may be important in such a plan.

Guardianship is meant to be for the benefit of an incapacitated individual, and in most cases it works that way. Establishing guardianship may sometimes be in the best interests of an older person, but, with careful planning, that person can have some control over who that guardian will be.

Source:, "I-Team: Court disregards pre-need plan, appoints professional guardian," Adam Walser, Sept. 25. 2013 Anchor Text: guardianship

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