AARP Eye Center
After years of smaller legislative reforms, the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers has formed a Guardianship Improvement Task Force to examine Florida’s guardianship system and provide recommendations to the legislature to improve the state’s guardianship system.
Guardianship, sometimes referred to as a conservatorship, depending on where you reside, is a legally mandated relationship by a judge-appointed person. In these cases, the guardian decides on the welfare and, oftentimes, finances of someone unable to physically or mentally manage those affairs. The arrangement is established to help and protect those who are incapacitated.
However, in Florida and states across the county, abuse by guardians have caused advocates, law enforcement, lawyers, judges, court clerks, individuals personally impacted and concerned families to demand changes to guardianship laws. The newly formed task force seeks to address shortcomings by identifying the state’s deficiencies, successful practices as well as unearthing the depth and breadth of information and data gaps within the state. For example, Florida lacks a statewide database, making it impossible to track how many individuals a guardian has legal authority over.
As part of its decades-long commitment of protecting older adults from abuse, AARP Florida was asked to join the task force.
“Mishandled cases of guardianship may leave a compromised person particularly vulnerable to potential abuse as guardianship strips away their rights. While designed to protect, it can also victimize,” said Zayne Smith, associate state director for advocacy and AARP’s Guardianship Task Force representative.
AARP has been at the forefront of the fight to improve guardianship statutes, practices and standards by advocating for comprehensive and accountable guardianship reforms. The goal is to protect vulnerable adults; provide their caregivers with the tools necessary to make important decisions and to institute a process that enacts guardianship only as a last resort.
In many instances, a judge selects a family member to serve as a guardian, but if no relative or friend is able to step in, the court may designate a professional or public guardian. After the appointment, state courts are required to monitor guardianships to ensure proper compliance.
Guardianship laws are addressed at federal and state levels, but AARP’s stance is that state policymakers should implement clear guardianship procedures and programs.
“We have made great strides to update and strengthen Florida’s adult guardianship system over the years, but our work is far from done,” Smith said. “That is why we are proud to serve as a task force member and collaborate on how best to comprehensively and effectively protect Florida’s most vulnerable.”
The task force held its inaugural meeting July 22, and it will hold a public meeting on July 27. The task force is seeking public comment. Recommendations will be compiled in early October 2021 and submitted to the state legislature for consideration of future legislation. To learn more about task force and to submit comments, visit guardianshipimprovementtaskforce.com.