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Guardianship bills to protect incapacitated people moves ahead

The Florida state legislature may soon be passing a bill that regulates professional guardianships. The bills has had hearings in both the House and the Senate. The law would give the state more tools to hold guardians accountable and make it necessary for judges to approve do-not-resuscitate orders.

One of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Colleen Burton (R-Lakeland), said she saw the need for reform after a man choked to death when his caregiver had a do-not-resuscitate order placed without permission and removed his feeding tube. When testifying before the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Jan. 15, she said it would allow lawmakers to protect people who could not speak for themselves. Also testifying was a man who became a guardianship reform advocate after a 4 1/2 year battle to get his mother's guardian removed. The guardian was being paid $30,000 per month and was put in place despite the fact that his mother had set up a trust and prepared paperwork that appointed family members to manage her financial matters and her health care.

The man said the bill would help but was still not enough. In his situation, a judge finally determined that the guardian was not in his mother's best interest, and she was able to spend the final weeks of her life with her son.

Many people do make arrangement for guardianships as part of their estate plan, and this bill should strengthen them. However, there may be other situations in which an individual becomes incapacitated and there is no paperwork in place. When this happens, family members may want to consult an attorney about guardianships and conservatorships. In some cases, a family may be divided about who should be appointed. The attorney may be able to help clients prepare a strategy in this situation.

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