Florida Governor Charlie Crist has declared October as "Guardianship Month."
NASGA would point Governor Crist's attention to the fact that the original intent of guardianship/conservatorship law - "guard," "protect" and "conserve" - is no longer being complied with in a frightening and growing number of cases involving court-appointed fiduciaries. Wards' estates, instead of being conserved, are being plundered in the guise of fiduciary fee billings for "services," either not necessary or not necessarily legal in nature, or simply through blatant overbilling. More and more fiduciaries are engaging in "protecting" their wards into indigence!
Wards' best interests aren't being protected either. Many wards are forced into facilities against their wishes and the wishes of their family. Often, these wards are then isolated from family and friends, believing they have been abandoned, and end up dying prematurely, alone and afraid. They are often given unnecessary and dangerous psychotropic drugs which "straightjackets" them and hastens their death after their assets are gone!
Not all guardianship is unlawful or abusive, but when it is, families and lives are destroyed. When unethical fiduciaries have bled estates dry, their wards are thrust onto the Medicaid rolls for the rest of their lives. Every citizen is then affected through increased taxation. The fiduciaries move on to greener pastures while the taxpayers are left with the Medicaid tab for the rest of the lives of the wards, still under state control.
Families fighting for release of their loved ones are damaged financially and can be driven into bankruptcy themselves, while the "fiduciaries" take their fees from the ward's estate with the blessings of a judge who fails to comply with law. The devastation can cross generations.
It's no longer a secret: guardianship can and often does harm the very people the laws are supposed to be protecting: the wards, their extended families, and the unwary taxpayers.
*In Miami-Dade, Judge Maria M. Korvick appointed an attorney known to her to be on psychiatric disability, despite the statutory requirement that a fiduciary be sui juris; i.e., competent. The ward, Estela Torrent, went blind due to neglect during court-ordered confinement in a nursing facility, where she remained against her will, at the urgings of the guardian of the property - her very own son. He also convinced the judge, through a hearsay complaint, to compel his sister to pay for a guard in order to visit her mother in the nursing home. That same sister has now been appointed by that same judge as guardian of the person of their mother, and is her present caregiver, now that her estate has been bled out and she has been filed as an indigent. What's wrong with this picture?
*In Volusia County, Judge McFerrin Smith is determined to retain control over Rita Denmark, a nonresident of the State of Florida. Rita Denmark has lived her entire life in Pennsylvania, yet Judge Smith has refused to let her go home for three long years!
*In Pinellas County, after her guardian's refusal to take Retta Rickow to her doctor, she landed in the ER. The guardian then secretly moved Retta to a facility 21 miles across county - away from her home, family, church and her doctors of over 20 years. Family contested and a hearing was set in Judge Patrick K. Caddell's court for the purpose of moving Retta closer to her daughter and son in compliance with her wishes and wants. At that hearing, family was blindsided by the judge who, on his own and before any of the lawyers present had submitted their fee billings, assessed family to pay the guardian and attorneys over $8,000. Retta Rickow continues to be separated from her family, her estate plundered, and Florida law ignored.
*In Broward County, Judge Mel Grossman presided over the case of 95-year old Lucille Gittens, who was forced to leave the home she had lived in with her son and his family for thirty years and placed in a group facility against her wishes and the wishes of her family.
If Florida is to remain the "Sunshine State," it must bring that sunlight into its courts and end the unlawful and abusive misuse of well-intentioned law for unjust enrichment purposes. A large percentage of the Florida elderly population is presently victimized, with the Baby Boomers coming up fast.
NASGA calls for Governor Crist and those running to replace him this election year, to stand up for the vulnerable elderly and disabled persons of Florida and work with NASGA toward reform.
See NASGA's "An Open Letter to Congress and the White House," available online.