Fla. Lawmakers Working To Revamp State's Guardianship Laws To Help Elderly

Apr 6, 2015

Advocate Doug Franks (right) pictured with his mother Ernestine Franks.
Credit freeernestine.com

A bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers wants to revamp the state’s guardianship laws.

Doug Franks is one of three sons who, on the advice of an attorney, decided to become a guardian for his almost 90-year-old mother at the time. But, when he did, he says that’s when his troubles began with what he calls “a corrupt system.”

Franks says when his mom when to court, the judge—ignoring his mother’s testimony—decided to appoint what he calls a “third party, commercial, for-profit court appointed guardian.”

“In my mom’s case, she had all of her advanced directives,” said Franks. “She testified in court. She went to a memory clinic just two days before. A neurologist said she had full capacity to make a decision of who were guardian was, and understood the ramifications. And, a judge said, ‘I don’t think that’s best for Mrs. Franks.’ And, why it’s not best? $1 million since June 29th is why it’s not best! $1,000 a day is what my Mom is spending.”

Several investigative news reports have called attention to the system, showing some Guardians, for example, selling off their ward’s possession without their permission. In other cases where the elderly citizen is deemed incapacitated, some judges were shown to have ignored legal documents giving the guardianship rights to a relative.

In Franks’ case, he says his mother and father—when he was alive—had set up a Trust for his mother, but he says none of those directives were followed in favor of a system funneling that money toward the appointed guardian.

“Everything, again, was unnecessary because my Mom had all these advanced directives, but again, it was all about the money, all about the greed,” he added. “I will see my Mom Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. For the privilege to see me, she will pay $900 to a court-appointed supervisor. That court appointed supervisor will be making $100 an hour while she’s playing Words with Friends. I can prove that, by the way.”

For Lynn Sailor, she says the judge, in her mother’s case, appointed a close friend as her mom’s Guardian attorney.

“They were all involved,” said Saylor. “They were all very friendly with each other. And, the Attorney ad-Litem that that judge also appointed who we brought to the attention that they were ignoring all these guardian responsibilities, guidelines, and code of ethics. He actually took them and said, ’these are not laws. These are code of ethics. These don’t need to be followed.’ And, he said that in court.”

Lynn Saylor says she even went to the Florida Department of Children and Families for help.

“When we called DCF, the investigator that came out to my mother’s house—I explained it to her—she said, ‘I know that Guardian. There are worse Guardians than this Guardian, and they can do whatever they want. Thank the Judicial system.’ That was her report,” said Saylor.

That’s why she says she’s in favor of a measure that would reform the system, which creates two codes of conduct Guardians must follow.

The bill’s Senate sponsor is Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R-Miami).

“A code of prohibited conduct and performance standards,” he said, during a Senate committee hearing last week. “A guardian, for example, must give the ward as much freedom as possible and assist the ward in regaining capacity. The amendment also allows the family members of the ward to petition a court, if a guardian is deny visitation of the ward and the ward’s family.”

The measure also seeks to strengthen the oversight of the Guardians and changes how guardians are appointed, as explained by House co-sponsor Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez (D-Miami).

“When an emergency temporary guardian is initially appointed, it requires that once a permanent Guardian is appointed—there’s no preference given to that initially temporary Guardian when the court is considering to appoint permanently. An exception can be made only when the court makes specific findings as to why the emergency temporary Guardian is appointed,” he said, during a House committee hearing last month.  

Still, even though he likes the changes in this bill, Alan Saylor—who says his family has been deeply affected by the current Guardianship system—hopes things will change for a multi-billion dollar industry that targets those who appear to have money.

“Really only has to do with wards that have assets,” said Saylor. “They’re the targets. It’s the money! And, if you watch it, it’s all about the money. If you’re indigent, and you’re placed under public guardianship, these are non-issues.”

And, he hopes lawmakers will consider down the road, perhaps, creating an oversight board of citizens.

The measure is already on the House floor. Meanwhile, a similar bill in the Senate has one more committee stop to go before heading to the floor.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.