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The importance of a trustworthy guardian for elders

Florida elder law is designed to protect aging individuals, sometimes in cases when they are unable to make healthy and competent decisions on their own. However, these protections come with a cost: One must place one's trust in an appointed guardian. Guardianship should be established carefully, regardless of the fact that it is a relatively straightforward process in the state.

The main argument for careful consideration of guardianship comes from the legal definition of the guardian-ward relationship. The Florida Legislature website has the full text of the law online, which begins by stating that an individual's rights are removed and transferred when a court establishes guardianship. This includes civil rights, including many basic freedoms, as well as legal rights, such as signing contracts and interacting with accounts. Guardians must uphold certain professional duties in order to legally wield these rights for another person.

Unfortunately, not all guardians are honest. Since guardians have broad freedom to act on their wards' behalf, often up to and including paying their own salaries, corruption is a problem. The Miami New Herald reported on this issue, citing a string of incidents in which a guardian violated a fiduciary duty. Some victims were billed excessively while others had their valuables stolen. As one might expect, the guardians themselves often tell a different story: Claims of familial attachment to wards and denials of abuse abound.

The New Herald article also mentions that the elderly are not the only targets of unethical or criminal guardians. Any individual over whom guardianship may be legally established, such as a child or someone found mentally incompetent, is at risk for this type of fraud and abuse.

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