Supreme Court chief justice tackles guardianship amid complaints


The complaints emanate from all over the state and, really, the nation: Seniors and others found incapacitated by the courts too often are treated like piggy banks by professional guardians who put their fees above the needs of the ward or concerns of loved ones.

Florida Chief Justice Jorge Labarga on Monday announced members of a task force that will focus on the growing concern about guardianships in Florida’s courts.

The announcement comes as the state tries to establish for the first time a regulatory authority over professional guardians.

He said few decisions are more challenging to a judge than removing a person’s rights because they are no longer capable of making decisions independently.

The Palm Beach Post, Labarga’s hometown newspaper, has reported extensively on guardianship, particularly how one judge and his wife benefited from it in the series, Guardianships: A Broken Trust. The stories resulted in reforms in Palm Beach County courts. Circuit Judge Martin Colin announced his retirement after the stories.

Colin’s wife, Elizabeth Savitt, continues to serve as a professional guardian despite increasing complaints by loved ones of her incapacitated wards. She has taken tens of thousands of dollars from incapacitated seniors’ bank accounts before a judge approved them, The Post found.

Lidya Abramovici is the former legislative liaison for Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship and says the group has lobbied Labarga for months to get involved as complaints mount from families who see their loved ones and their life savings ransacked by unethical professional guardians.

“The time has come for the Florida Supreme Court to become aware of what is happening in Florida with the injustice to the elderly and the financial abuse,” she said.

Abramovici said two reforms that can help are to cap fees for guardians and their attorneys and to require judges not to overrule advanced directives seniors made before they were declared incapacitated.

Cases to increase

In a news release, Labarga, who lives in Welllington, said he created what he calls the “work group” because guardianship caseloads are increasing in number and complexity.

“As Florida grows and ages, we can expect more and more cases dealing with guardianship issues to come into our courts,” Labarga said.

Individuals found incapacitated by the court are appointed a guardian. If a family member is not available, often a professional guardian steps in with complete control of the senior’s finances, medical decisions and housing.

In Florida and across the nation, many professional guardians have been found to act in their own interests and not those of the incapacitated ward. Families of seniors have found themselves unable to battle professional guardians, who often employ legions of attorneys who are paid out of the savings of the senior.

Balance needed

Highlands County Circuit Judge Olin Shinholser will serve as chairman. He said there is too often conflict between the needs and desires of the ward — often a senior battling dementia — and the guardian, caregivers and even the family.

“Comments and complaints from various stakeholders are indicative that we need to take a closer look at whether the rules and procedures in place accomplish the balance needed,” he said.

State legislators passed laws in the last two legislative sessions to increase the state’s regulation and oversight of guardians.

“This is an appropriate time to re-evaluate our system and determine if the courts are doing everything possible to meet the needs of everyone involved,” Labarga said. “It’s imperative we stay proactive in this area and provide real solutions to emerging issues.”

The work group will tackle a number of guardianship issues, including restoration of capacity for the senior or person put in a guardianship. Costs — which usually mean fees for the guardian and at least one lawyer — will also be addressed.

An interim report is due to the court by October 2017 and a final report is due to the court by September 2018.

“Further evaluating guardianship practices supports the branch’s goal of ensuring that court procedures and operations are easily understandable and user-friendly and supports our mission to protect rights and liberties of all,” Shinholser said.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

Texas school shooting: Alcee Hastings blasts Republicans, other pols weigh in
Texas school shooting: Alcee Hastings blasts Republicans, other pols weigh in

Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach. U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach, quickly pointed to Republican opposition to gun control after this morning’s shooting at a high school near Houston, Texas. Preliminary reports say at least eight people were killed in the shooting. “Watching yet another school shooting...
Clearing the clutter key for pleasing residents post-hurricane
Clearing the clutter key for pleasing residents post-hurricane

After the storm moved through, after life and limb had been accounted for, debris removal topped the list of priorities for residents, said officials from counties hit hard last year by Hurricane Irma. In a lessons learned session Thursday at the 32nd annual Governor’s Hurricane Conference at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, officials...
GL Homes revives plans for large housing project near The Acreage
GL Homes revives plans for large housing project near The Acreage

GL Homes has dusted off plans for a large-scale housing project west of The Acreage, reviving concerns about snarled traffic and over-development in the semi-rural area northwest of Royal Palm Beach. The developer initially won county approval for its plan to build 3,900 homes on the 4,900-acre Indian Trails Grove tract it owns west of 180th Avenue...
Kushner tower, drowning in debt, gets lifeline with ties to Qatar
Kushner tower, drowning in debt, gets lifeline with ties to Qatar

The company controlled by the family of White House adviser Jared Kushner is close to receiving a bailout of its troubled flagship building by a company with financial ties to the government of Qatar, according to executives briefed on the deal.  Charles Kushner, head of the Kushner Cos., is in advanced talks with Brookfield Asset Management over...
‘Bigger than Watergate’? Both sides say yes, but for different reasons
‘Bigger than Watergate’? Both sides say yes, but for different reasons

President Donald Trump and his critics actually agree on something. If a column he read in a magazine is correct, he wrote on Twitter on Thursday, “this is bigger than Watergate!”  Never mind that he was thinking of something different than his adversaries when they use the same phrase. Trump was referring to what he deems a deep-state...
More Stories