20 August 2009

Guardianship in Florida: Legalized Robbery and Exploitation of the Elderly and Disabled!

I picked up a copy of today’s St. Petersburg Times (Thursday, 20 August 2009) only to find an article in the B section which broke my heart. It is the story of a woman who was stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease who had a trust drawn up earlier and amended it so that she can live out her last days at home. I know, it is very heart breaking when your loved one has a terminal illness such as Alzheimer’s and you want to provide the best possible so that when the time comes that your loved one passes away, at least your loved one got his or her wishes.

I urge you to please read this blog entry word for word.

According to the St. Petersburg Times article written by none other than Drew Harwell (who, by the way, wrote the article on how dangerous the Interstate 375 ramp is), Carol Kinnear owned a multi-million dollar home out on Clearwater Beach where she wanted to live out her last days. After all, when the home that you lived in happens to be the home you grew up in or lived there a long time, it takes on a special meaning not only for you but for your relatives as well.

However, Carol’s relatives wanted to make sure that the estate was preserved. As such, papers were filed for a member of the family to become Carol’s legal guardian; however, once the court approved the guardianship the legal guardian for Carol was not any of her relatives – instead, it turned out to be total strangers. According to the Times article, Carol’s legal guardian – a professional legal guardian – had her removed from her home and taken to a facility, all against Carol’s wishes. To make matters worse, Carol’s legal guardian even barred her relatives from even seeing her.

Unfortunately, Florida’s guardianship laws do allow for legalized robbery and exploitation of an elderly or disabled person, especially when a professional legal guardian comes into play. Learning back from my days when I was going for my Legal Assisting degree at Hillsborough Community College, I learned the process of guardianship in a class called Wills, Trusts and Probate.

A guardianship starts when the papers are filed in the Probate Court starting with a petition to the court explaining why a person should have a legal guardian. Next, a committee of experts examines the person that is the subject of guardianship – called a ward – and reports back to the court with a recommendation as to whether guardianship is recommended and if that is the case, who the legal guardian should be.

The process of getting someone declared legally incompetent from what I understand is rather very easy. Too easy, in my opinion. An attorney can intervene during the process and recommend that a professional guardian be appointed, against the wishes of the ward and his or her family. This is where guardianship can get ugly here.

Once the ward is declared incompetent and a guardian is appointed, practically all of the ward’s civil liberties are completely stripped: The right to vote, the ability to hold a driver’s license, the ability to own property, and so on. If a professional guardian as in the case of Carol Kinnear comes into play, it means that a total stranger is in charge of everything.

During a guardianship, papers are required to be filed with the court including an accounting of the assets of the ward both initially and every year. Moreover, if a professional guardian is involved the guardian has to be bonded as well. Unfortunately, papers can be falsified while at the same time a professional guardian is out there misusing the assets of the ward. To make matters worse, a professional guardian can also have the ward committed to an institution, all against the family’s wishes.

This is what I see: A professional guardian who is supposed to look after the best interest of his or her ward actually misappropriates the ward’s assets to the professional guardian’s own benefit, such as paying the monthly mortgage among other things. Next, the professional guardian has the ward committed to an institution at some unknown place and at the same time keeps the ward’s relatives away; who knows what kind of treatment the ward is getting: Abuse? Neglect?

In short, guardianship – especially when a total stranger is appointed as a professional guardian – is actually a license granted by the court to steal a ward’s assets and to have the ward locked away and put out of sight of the ward’s immediate family. Here in Pinellas County from what I understand, there is little to no oversight of professional guardians when engaged in their duties.

However, there are alternatives to guardianship out there that may be a better choice for your loved one. I won't get into any detail here, but the best way to explore these alternatives is to discuss them with your attorney.

Unfortunately, Florida’s guardianship laws make it easier than you think to get someone declared incompetent. Once you get involved with guardianship, it is essentially permanent and when a total stranger is in complete charge of your loved one’s affairs, the end result can be disastrous.


Anonymous said...

The family--or anyone--has a right to petition the court for review of the guardianship. Potentially relatives could sue the guardian for mishandling/unreasonably diminishing the estate.

Edward Ringwald said...

Anonymous, thanks for your kind comment.

I totally agree, if I were one of Carol Kinnear's relatives and found out that a total stranger is in charge of her well being, I would be petitioning the court for review of the guardianship.

A so-called "professional" legal guardian who destroys families by removing the ward from a familiar setting such as his or her home and placing him or her in an institution and at the same time prohibiting the relatives from visiting permanently is good cause for legal action against the guardian including criminal charges if abuse, neglect or exploitation is found.

In my opinion, the so-called "professional" guardian overseeing Carol Kinnear has, for all practical aspects, destroyed Carol's family when Carol was removed from her home and placed in an institution and barred the family from visiting permanently. After reading the St. Petersburg Times article about what happened to Carol, it broke my heart to see something like this happen.

Now ask yourself: How would you feel if you were permanently barred from visiting your relatives, especially if they were in an institution such as a nursing home? It's very sad, but guardianship allows for this especially when a professional guardian gets into the picture.

Carol Sharp said...

I am trying to help the sister of a dear friend get information on the condition of her health and well being. Ida Pavioni is 86 years old, in good health, and on April 5,2010, she was involuntarily removed from her home in Bradenton, Florida. She was declared incompentent within 30 days and placed incommunicado from her family on May 6. No family member has been able to see her since and they are forbidden by the Court Appointed Guardian to communicate with her or see her. We have exhausted all the channels of complaint...the Governor, Senator Bill Nelson, State of Florida Elder Affairs - Elder Affairs Inspector General has received our complaint. The bottom line is that to undo this situation Ida's 85 year old sister must hire an attorney to do so. No attorney in Manatee County wants to take this case as they say they cannot go up against the State of Florida and win. Ida's sister lives in Indiana and this would mean that she would have to hire two lawyers to fight this, to merely know how her only sibling is doing. Lee, Ida's sister, does not have the money to fight this and neither does anyone else in the family. I know that Ida has had her rights under due process of the law stomped on. She tried to hire a lawyer before she was declared incompetent by sneaking out of the nursing home where she was being held by the State of Florida. Unfortunately, the Nursing Home staff had taken all of her identification, check book,credit cards, identification upon her incareration by them. Ida was not incompetent or incapacitated. She tried to exercise her rights to a lawyer and was denied them. The State Appointed Attorney sold her down the river at the competency hearing. She is now somewhere in Manatee Country, condition unknown, and the court appointed Guardian, who was involved in a disputed case one year ago, which was overturned, is now spending her money and selling off her assets as fast as you can imagine. It is heartbreaking for Ida's sister Lee and all she would like to know is the status of Ida's health and where she is being held. By the way,Ida "had" an estimated estate of $1MILLION Dollars that this woman is now in charge of. Something has to be done to protect elderly people from this horrible system in Florida. This type of involuntary incarceration of our elderly is a travesty and a denial of their essential human rights. Edward, where else can we turn to put this system under the light and expose it for the scam it is?

Edward Ringwald said...

Carol, thanks for your kind comment. What puzzles me is who filed for the guardianship in the very first place? After what I read in your comment about Ida, what happened is legalized kidnapping and imprisonment - in a nursing home - all sanctioned by the State of Florida under the guise of its guardianship laws.

I very much agree, guardianship of an adult person very much destroys families, especially when a professional guardian is in charge of everything. To add insult to injury, the nursing home took everything upon admission just like when someone is processed into state prison. Then the professional guardian goes in and takes away the assets - home, car, savings, investments, you name it - and the proceeds are used for the professional guardian's own benefit.

After all, we got an election coming up this November and we really need to elect a governor and legislature who really cares about the people, not the special interests. Perhaps next year our legislators in Tallahassee need to do a very serious overhaul of Florida's guardianship laws.

Here is a great website that exposes the problem of guardianship abuse that you may want to visit, StopGuardianAbuse.org. It's worth a visit.

After all, Florida's guardianship laws are, in essence, broken and beyond repair. We need to hold guardians, especially professional guardians, accountable for their actions.

NASGA said...

Guardianship, a well-intended law which provides that the court-appointed fiduciary GUARD the ward, CONSERVE their assets, and PROTECT the taxpayers from the ward becoming a public charge, is being misused.
NASGA - National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse - is calling it "The Protection Racket" when judges allow guardians to enrich themselves and abuse their wards and their families.
Florida IS bad, but the problem is national in scope.
Forcing families to appeal is destructive, financially and emotionally.
The only solution is through legislation, people power and the vote. Join NASGA and work with us.

Anonymous said...

I hope you'll visit www.facebook.com/boomersbeware to read many cases like yours. We are exposing the truth about predatory guardianships. Bless you.

Edward Ringwald said...

I posted a link to the Boomers Against Elder Abuse page on Facebook over at my guardianship page. I checked it out and your Facebook page is very impressive.

I agree with you 150 percent: Florida's guardianship laws are broken beyond repair and need to be overhauled. All it takes is a total stranger such as a social worker to initiate a lifetime of destroyed dignity and respect. And if Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi likes warehousing our disabled youth in nursing homes, I imagine she likes warehousing our elderly in nursing homes and Assisted Living Facilities (ALF's) as well - and it's completely legal under the guise of Florida's guardianship laws.

Beware if you or your loved one - particularly if you are older - has to go to the hospital ER for an emergency medical condition. There could be a social worker - either on staff or on call - lurking around the corner poised and ready to do the damage with both the regular petition to determine capacity as well as the emergency petition for guardianship.

Anonymous said...

My situation is similar but I am a spouse of a man who's daughter filed for emergency temp guardianship of her Father because he revoked her Durable Power of Attorney because she was changing all his insurance policies etc. trying to fix everything so me his spouse of 16 years would be left out of everything and when a guardianship is filed if a spouses name is not on everything (marital property) you do not have any rights at all and you are cut out of all funds, my husband had memory problems and she took advantage of him, after 17 months she resigned
as guardian and hired a professional guardian to take over it was all a plot to take everything away from me. Now our home of 13 years in going into foreclosure because the professional guardian has not paid any payments on it since Feb 2013 and she is trying to get a court order to sell everything that we own and the Judge is the kind of Judge that will sign off on anything that is put in front of him. I really feel that these guardians and professional guardians can do anything that they want to do with theirs wards property and nobody can do anything about it unless you have many many $$$ and that I don't have. Sooo with that said I will probably be homeless in the next couple of months because July 1, 2013 the guardian removed my husband from my care and his home and moved him into a house that she rented for him and his caregiver is now his grandson's wife who is his former guardians daughter in law she is living with him with her 2 children while her husband is serving time in Fed prison. I would like to print a copy of your blog in our local paper to try and save people from having to go through what I have been through for the past almost 3 years. I was told by an attorney that all I could do is file for divorce from my husband and try and get the marital property back from the guardian.I haven't seen my husband since they moved him out of our home. THey will not let me speak to him or visit with him, he has tried to call me a few times but they make him hang the phone up when they catch him trying to call me.