Florida Guardianship – What is it?  Do I need one?

Florida Guardianship is a legal process used to protect individuals who are unable to care for their own wellbeing due to the fact that they are a minor, are incapacitated or developmentally disabled.  A Court will appoint a legal guardian to care for the individual, who needs special protection.  The individual is known as a Ward.  Legal guardians have the legal authority and fiduciary responsibility to make decisions for their Ward regarding personal and financial interests.

Florida is a state that regulates guardianships very strictly.  Regulations vary from state to state regarding guardianship law, but Florida has very stringent requirements of Guardians.  In fact, the basic premise in Florida regarding guardianships is that the Court is charged with making sure that the least restrictive means are utilized when dealing with an individual who is determined to be incapacitated or is developmentally disabled.  Florida has a large population of elderly people and the guardianship laws are purposely strict to protect those people who are most vulnerable such as elderly people, developmentally disabled persons and minors.

There are essentially four types of Florida guardianships, they are Plenary, Limited, Advocacy and Guardianship for Minors.  The Plenary guardianship is a guardianship over the person and their assets.  It is a two-step process that starts with the person being determined to be incompetent or incapacitated.  Once the person is determined to be incapacitated, the Court must then determine what specific rights must be removed and what rights will be retained.  The specific rights that the Court addresses and determines whether the alleged incapacitated person is capable of exercising are:  1) Right to marry; 2) Right to vote; 3) Right to contract; 4) Right to travel; 5) Right to sue and defend lawsuits; 6) Right to have a driver’s license; 7) Right to determine his/her residency; 8) Right to seek or retain employment; 9) Right to consent to medical treatment; 10) Right to personally apply for government benefits; 11) Right to manage property or to make any gift or disposition of property; and finally 12) Right to make decisions about his/her social environment or other social aspects of his/her life.  The guiding principle in determining what rights to take away from the incapacitated person is utilizing the least restrictive means necessary.  The Limited Guardianship limits the guardian’s authority to certain areas regarding the Ward’s life such as limiting the guardian to authority over the Ward’s finances.  The guardian advocacy is a guardianship that is established when a person is born developmentally disabled such as a person born with mental retardation, Autism or some other mental disease that prevents them from growing mentally.  The Guardianship of a Minor is generally established when the minor receives a money settlement or has lost both parents and needs someone to look out for their health, welfare, maintenance and assets.

Florida law is so stringent it requires specific reporting to the Court regarding the Ward’s health, welfare and maintenance in the form of an annual plan and annual accounting of the Ward’s assets  This can be a cumbersome process and can be avoided with proper estate planning.  Your Jacksonville Estate Lawyer can assist you with a properly prepared Estate Plan that prevents you and your family from having to go through the legal process of establishing a guardianship.  An estate lawyer can assist you with preparing a document that predetermines who your guardian would be if, in fact, you become incapacitated and require a guardian.

In many cases, establishing a Guardianship cannot be avoided.  The Guardianship process requires that you hire an attorney.  Contact our Jacksonville Guardianship lawyers who are experienced in this area and can guide you through the process.  It can be a very emotional and confusing time; you should seek the advice of someone who knows how to get you through the guardianship process as smoothly as possible.  Then you can have peace of mind that your loved one is protected.

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