Articles Posted in Guardianships

Do incapacitated wards need prior court approval to marry? Subsequent ratification is enough

Already in 1888, the United States Supreme Court first recognized the right to marry as one of the fundamental rights of all individuals.  Describing marriage as “the most important relationship in life,” the Court went on upholding that marriage is “the foundation of the family and society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress.”  Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190 (1888).

Regretfully, when it comes to marriage of incapacitated persons, they are sometimes the victims of emotional abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation.  For this reason, a guardianship court may remove an incapacitated person’s right to marry if there is clear and convincing evidence that he or she is incapacitated with respect to that right.  Fla. Stat. 744.3215(2)(a); 744.331(6).  However, even when a guardianship court does not remove the right to marry, an incapacitated person’s right to marry becomes “subject to court approval” when his or her right to contract has been removed.  Fla. Stat. 744.3215(2)(a).  This legal framework aims at protecting the ward by allowing a court to assess the risks of abuse and exploitation, while upholding the ward’s fundamental right to marry, to the greatest extent possible.

Priority of Medical Decision-Makers when Incapacitated

Throughout life, many unexpected things can happen. Have you ever wondered who will get to make difficult medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated or otherwise unable to? The Florida Legislature has, in § 765.401 Fla. Stat. (1992), made a list in order of priority of such proxies.

The first person on the list is a court-appointed guardian if one has previously been appointed and has been authorized to consent to medical treatment for the patient. Likewise, a guardian advocate previously appointed by the court will be first in line to make decisions for one who has a developmental disability. It is important to note that guardian appointments are not required before a medical decision can be made.


At the end of last year it seemed as if every day there was a new report of a celebrity dying unexpectedly. As fans around the world mourned the death of some of Hollywood’s most iconic figures, reports of their estate planning, or lack thereof, also filled the headlines.

Prince: Intestacy and streaming music rights collide

Elder Abuse and Undue Influence Awareness

Did you commemorate World Elder Abuse Awareness Day? June 15, 2017 marked the twelfth annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, or WEAAD. Elder abuse, especially elder financial exploitation, has been called the crime of the 21st century. However, based on national surveys, elder abuse remains one of the least investigated and least addressed types of violence in national action plans. Experts predict that by the year 2025, the global population of those aged 60 years and older will more than double, from 542 million in 1995 to about 1.2 billion. As the global elderly population grows, so does the risk of financial abuse.

To raise awareness around the world and promote a better understanding of abuse of older adults, the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations launched WEAAD in 2006. WEAAD’s theme this year focused on preventing financial exploitation of the elderly in the context of human rights. The 2017 WEAAD also stressed the need for countries to take concrete action and develop strategies addressing financial exploitation for older adults.

Legal Capacity and Estate Planning- How to Help Safeguard a Will from Future Litigation

When a loved one grows older, their caretakers’ ever growing to-do list can become overwhelming. After dealing with the basic, everyday needs of an aging family member, it may sometimes be easy to overlook the fact that your loved one does not have a valid will.  By not addressing this issue, the task of handling final affairs and estate distribution after their death becomes increasingly more difficult. If you are responsible for someone who is at risk for developing Alzheimer’s, dementia, or any other disease that can affect their mental capacity, it is important that you consult with an estate planning lawyer who can ensure that a proper will is drafted in accordance with the laws of the state of Florida.

Florida courts have held that a will can be properly admitted to probate if the testator was competent at the time the will was executed.  Jervis v. Tucker, 82 So.3d 126 (FL 4th DCA 2002).  A testator will be found to have been competent if they possessed the ability to “mentally understand in a general way the nature and extent of the property to be disposed of, and the testator’s relation to those who would naturally claim a substantial benefit from the will, as well as a general understanding of the practical effect of the will as executed.” American Red Cross v. Estate of Haynsworth, 708 So.2d 602, 605 (FL 3rd DCA 1998). Florida courts will apply these standards and also evaluate the facts specific to a particular case in order to determine if a testator was of “sound mind” when they created the will. Estate planning lawyers play an important role in this process and have the responsibility of ensuring that the testator is legally competent at the time the will is created.

The Shifting Landscape of Guardianship Law: Three Consecutive Years of Changes

(Published in The Florida Bar Journal, September 2016) 

Members of The Florida Bar Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section’s (RPPTL) Guardianship, Power of Attorney and Advance Directives Committee are keenly aware that there have been major changes to Florida’s guardianship laws in the last several years. The political climate of the past few years has been decidedly against guardianships and, in particular, professional guardians, due to perceived abuses by them. The current political climate is due in part to hearings held before the Florida Legislature during the 2014 session in which organized members of the public testified about the horrors of guardianships. While some of the horror stories came from disgruntled family members unhappy with the results of their particular guardianship litigation, others made legitimate points regarding the need to improve the system.

Estate Planning for Young Professionals: Don’t Wait to Start Planning

Discussing one’s death can be an awkward and uncomfortable experience at any age. It is a topic that most individuals avoid at all costs, especially young adults, as if the mere discussion of one’s future demise will somehow bring it about. While it may not be pleasant dinner conversation, discussions of what will and should happen in the event of death should take place sooner rather than later.

Most young professionals do not feel a sense of urgency when it comes to estate planning, and believe that they have all of the time in the world.  Many young professionals also do not have much of an estate to speak of, maybe some bank accounts, some property if they are lucky, and likely a lot of student debt. Many individuals with few assets do not see the need for any type of estate plan. However, such an outlook is shortsighted and fails to take into account assets that will be acquired in the future. Early estate planning can protect the estate an individual does have, maximize the value and income of both their current and future assets, and also ensure seamless transfer of assets to loved ones in the event of death.

The path to a guardianship begins with a petition to determine incapacity. Next, there is an examination of the alleged incapacitated person by a three-person examining committee. Finally, there is a hearing on the matter where there must be clear and convincing evidence that the alleged incapacitated person is in fact incapacitated and that their rights should be removed.

The process of obtaining a court appointed guardianship is not easy. Courts view the removal of a person’s rights as a final option and do not grant guardianships without conducting a thorough review and exhausting all other options. The court places an extremely high value on protecting the alleged incapacitated person and their rights. A person alleged to be incapacitated is entitled to procedural due process in determining incapacity. According to Florida Statute, an alleged incapacitated person has the right to:

(1) Remain silent and refuse to testify at the hearing. The person may not be held in contempt of court or otherwise penalized for refusing to testify. Refusal to testify may not be used as evidence of incapacity; (2) Testify; (3) Present evidence; (4) Call witnesses; (5) Confront and cross-examine all witnesses; and (6) Have the hearing open or closed as she or he may choose. Fla. Stat. § 744.1095.
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When the mental faculties of a person come into question, the court can be petitioned to implement a guardianship. Courts, generally, view this as a last resort when there is no viable alternative. Guardianships can be limited in their scope or plenary. Part of the guardianship processes is an examination of the alleged incapacitated person by a three-person examining committee. Questions often arise about the rights and duties of the examining committee in the examination of an alleged incapacitated person. Under the Florida guardianship statutes, before depriving an individual of all of his or her civil and legal rights, “the individual must be incapable of exercising his rights at all, whether wisely or otherwise.” Losh v. McKinley, 86 So. 3d 1150, 1153 (Fla. 3d DCA 2012)(quoting McJunkin v. McJunkin, 896 So.2d 962, 963 (Fla. 2d DCA 2005)). Florida Statute Section 744.331(3) outlines the rights and duties of the examining committee in determining incapacity. There are rights related to the examination and report conducted and issued by the examining committee as well as the hearing on the matter.
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When a ward is incapable of taking care of his or her own interests, a court usually appoints a “guardian” to take care of that individual. A guardian may be appointed when a person experiences mental incapacity or a disability. A court may also appoint a guardian for a minor child in the event that the child’s natural guardian(s) are unable to serve as legal guardians of the child. But, what is the process that the court goes through when choosing a guardian? Who is qualified to be a guardian? Florida statutes and case law provide answers to many of the questions that come up when a court needs to select a guardian.

The basic qualifications for any guardian are (1) that he or she is 18 years or older and (2) that he or she is a resident of Florida. Fla. Stat. § 744.309. However, the resident requirement does have some flexibility built in and several exceptions do apply. See Fla. Stat. § 744.309(2).
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