A good professional guardian can be a godsend in difficult family situations. A good professional guardian is a tireless advocate, is on-call twenty-four hours a day and is a master of diplomacy. Unfortunately professional guardians as a group have come under fire in the Florida media. In order to properly understand the issue, one needs to understand the situations when professional guardians are utilized.
Florida guardianship law gives preference to family members applying to be a guardian. Family should be appointed wherever possible. The reasons a professional guardian may be appointed include:
- Family members are unable to devote the time and energy needed to fulfill the role.
- The alleged incapacitated person has no family.
- Financial dependence by family members making them unable to make appropriate decisions in the interest of the elder.
- Intractable family disagreements about the type of care needed causing distress to the elder.
- Long standing family dysfunction making the relatives unable or unwilling to devote the time necessary to care for the elder.
- Family members have engaged in financial exploitation.
When a professional guardian steps into these situations, it is forseeable that some family members may be dissatisfied with the work of the professional guardian. This dissatisfaction may be particularly acute when the professional guardian institutes legal action to recover their ward’s funds that were wrongfully taken by family members. A group of disgruntled family members (many of whom were sued by professional guardians to recover funds) garnered media attention over the past year. The media attention tended to paint all professional guardians in a negative light. What was never reported was the caring attention and the tireless efforts that many (if not most) professional guardians provide.
The Florida legislature is considering bills this year that would tighten guardian regulation. The current system does not have an appropriate mechanism to rid the system of bad professional guardians. Regulation of professional guardians is important but will take funding and an infrastructure to ensure fairness.