Most adults are responsible for themselves when it comes to legal matters. Once you are a legal adult, you can make decisions based on the law in cases of money or property without someone else making those decisions for you. However, if an adult in the state of Florida becomes incapacitated due to injury or illness, there are measures set in place to ensure that someone will become responsible for the legal rights of the incapacitated person. In Florida, a guardianship is a legal proceeding where someone is appointed to make decisions and handle the legal matters of a person who becomes incapacitated, otherwise known as a “ward.”
How & Why is a Guardian Appointed?
If an adult becomes incapacitated, that means that he or she has been judicially determined to lack the capacity to manage their property, legal matters, and issues related to health and safety. A court can determine that someone is entirely or partially incapacitated depending on the findings of an expert committee.
Anyone can file a petition to the court stating that the incapacitation of another deems him or her eligible for a legal guardian, but it is up to the court to decide and enforce guardianship. Once a petition has been filed, a committee of three expert members is formed to review the case of the potential ward, which includes a physical, mental, and functional assessment. This committee is usually made up of two physicians and another expert in the condition of the person in question. The committee will submit a report to the court with these findings related to the capacity of the individual.
After the report is presented to the court, a judge will decide if a person is wholly or partially incapacitated, if at all, based on the factual evidence discovered by the committee. If someone is deemed to be in full capacity of him or herself, then the judge will throw out the petition for guardianship.
Who Can Be a Guardian?
Any adult resident in the state of Florida and some family members outside of the state may be appointed guardian of a ward as long as they have not been convicted of a felony, and are fully capable of handling the duties of being a guardian. A nonprofit entity may be granted guardianship in certain situations, and a bank trust can be appointed guardian of an individual’s property.
What Does a Guardian Do?
Ultimately, the court will decide what the ward is incapable of doing and assign the rights and responsibilities to the guardian. A guardian will be required to report regularly on the property and health of the ward. He or she will also be responsible for the medical, mental, and personal care of the ward, as well as determining the best place for the ward to live depending on the requirements of the court.
A guardianship does not have to be a permanent arrangement, as some wards may recover and become capable of exercising their own rights after some time. In this case, the court would conduct another assessment to determine whether the ward has recovered from their incapacitation and release them from the guardianship if there is a full recovery.
If a guardianship is petitioned or necessary, it’s important to hire an attorney who is experienced in the area of family law and guardianships. The guardian is also required to have representation by an attorney throughout the process. In legal documentation, the person who becomes the ward can also designate their preferred guardian before an incapacitating event.
Consumer Pamphlet: What Is Guardianship? – The Florida Bar. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.floridabar.org/public/consumer/pamphlet030/#WHAT IS A GUARDIANSHIP?