The court appoints guardians of the person to help take care of people who can’t take care of themselves. In most cases, the court appoints guardians when their parents die, parents acquire a disability, seniors get dementia or other serious problems, and people develop serious physical or mental health problems. The court also appoints guardians for children who inherit money, are due insurance proceeds, or are due to the proceeds of a lawsuit.
The guardian appointment process
The process for appointing a guardian in Florida is outlined in Chapter 744 of the Florida Statutes. A guardian lawyer will explain that there are different types of guardians. The court gives guardians duties and obligations, so the court can monitor the guardianship relationship if need be. Guardian relationships generally apply to a guardian of a person or the person’s finances.
The court does not take the appointment of a guardian lightly. Appointments generally deprive the ward, the person who is being taken care of, of their civil and legal rights. Courts try to find the least restrictive guardian relationships if possible.
In many cases, a family relative or friend becomes a guardian. If someone in need of a guardian is without family and is indigent, then a public guardian or professional guardian may be the choice.
Duties of a guardian of the person
A guardian of the person takes care of the daily needs of the child or adult lacking capacity. Normally, the ward will live with the guardian. A guardian of a child basically acts as the child’s parent. Common duties include:
- Feeding and clothing the ward.
- Attending to the child or adult’s medical needs – more common with seniors than other wards.
- Raising the child. This includes making sure the child gets a good education, has friends, engages in social activities, is brought up to have moral values, and other daily life considerations.
Duties of a guardian of the property
A guardian of the property takes care of a ward’s finances. Another title for this duty is “conservator.” The guardian of the property/conservator manages the assets, bank accounts, real estate, and investment. This includes:
- Paying bills
- Arranging to sell assets for the fair market value when necessary
- Maintaining real property
- Distributing the funds to the guardian of the person or the ward in a regular and timely manner.
- Distributing the income
- Filing inventories and accountings of the funds be handled so the court can confirm the guardian of the property/conservator is doing a good job for the child or incapacitated adult
The guardian of the property and the guardian of the person can be the same person.
Guardianships for adults
There are two types of guardian appointments for adults – voluntary and involuntary. Some adults are aware that they need help in handling their affairs. These adults can request that the court appoint someone to handle their financial affairs – such as going to the bank. A physician should prepare a statement of the need for this type of appointment.
Involuntary appointments are made by someone other than the incapacitated adult. A caring relative or friend typically requests the appointment because the ward has cognitive difficulties. The court then appoints a committee including a physician to help the judge decide if someone is indeed in need of a guardian and what type of help they need.
Guardians for children
If both parents die or develop a disability, then a guardian is needed for the child unless someone steps forward to adopt the child. This type of guardian of a minor child ends when the child reaches age 18.
The court appoints a guardian of the property of a child when the minor is entitled to an inheritance of his/her parents’ estate, insurance proceeds, or a settlement – if the amount is more than $15,000.
Types of guardianships
Biological parents are the natural guardians of their children and can take care of their children without court approval. Their parenthood gives them the right to make legal decisions for their children and raise them according to their values.
The main types of guardians are:
- Family guardians. This is typically a relative such as an aunt, grandparent, or adult sibling. This type of guardian of a minor or adult with incapacity gets top priority by the Florida courts.
- Professional guardians. This is someone who gets a fee to be the guardian of multiple wards. When relatives disagree who should be the guardian, courts often appoint a professional guardian.
- Public guardians. The court appoints this type for indigent wards without family or friends. The guardian is selected through the Statewide Public Guardianship Office.
Additional guardianship types
Other types of guardians include foreign guardians, resident guardians of the property of nonresident wards, and guardian advocates. Temporary guardians and standby guardians are for short-term needs. Preneed guardians can also be court appointed. A preneed guardian is someone whom the ward preselected in the event they need a guardian. Preneed guardians must be approved by the court.
Alternatives to the appointment of a guardian
In some cases. Alternate legal documents achieve the goals of a guardian appointment. Possible alternatives include:
- A power of attorney. This document appoints someone to handle their financial affairs while they’re living.
- Health care proxy or surrogate. A capable person can choose someone to handle specific health issues in case they become incapacitated.