Understanding Florida Adult Conservatorship and Guardianship with a Palm Beach County Elder Law Attorney in Your Corner
Elder Law Issue: Adult Conservatorship and Guardianship in Palm Beach County
Whether through illness, injury, or mental decline, anyone can require a guardian or conservator to care for them if they become mentally or physically incapacitated in West Palm Beach, Florida. Children automatically qualify as not having the “capacity” to be in charge of their financial affairs and decisions about their well-being. And an adult may qualify as not having “capacity” if he or she becomes seriously ill or injured.
Unless you have the proper Florida estate planning in place that names the individual who will be your guardian or conservator in case of illness or injury, a Palm Beach County probate judge will be deciding who is your guardian or conservator.
At the Law Office of Juan A. Pyfrom, we can guide you through the probate court process and the often complex and emotional steps of appointing a conservator or guardian for you or your loved ones in West Palm Beach and surrounding Florida areas.
Elder Planning Process for Guardianship or Conservator in West Palm Beach, Florida
Appointing a guardian or conservator for an adult is a serious undertaking. The law presumes that a person over age 18 can act for themselves unless shown otherwise in Florida. As a result, the probate court typically requires extensive proof that a guardian or conservator of an adult is warranted in Palm Beach County.
The guardianship process in Florida begins with the interested party filing a petition in court that requests the court to declare the adult essentially “incapacitated,” at least from the legal perspective. Sometimes, these proceedings are initially “ex parte” (in secret) so that a guardian, or conservator, may be appointed before other interested parties are aware if there is a concern about other interested parties’ intentions or even the anticipated behavior of the adult at issue.
Many times, guardianship and conservatorship filings in Florida can lead to heated disputes between family members or close family friends who may claim they are better suited for the role. Regardless of who files the petition, guardianship and conservatorship will only be granted if the Florida court determines the outcome. If there is enough evidence to show the person is legally “incapacitated” to the point where they can no longer make legal, financial, or healthcare decisions for themselves, guardianship or conservatorship will be appointed.
Elder Law Answers: Who Is Eligible to be an Adult Guardian or Conservator in Florida?
Although courts typically prefer a spouse or another close family member, a guardian or conservator does not have to be a relative. Provided the person seeking an appointment is a competent adult, close friend, or any other interested party, they are eligible to serve as long as the judge determines they are best suited for the role in Palm Beach County, Florida.
If a relative or friend is unwilling or capable of serving, the court will appoint a third party to serve as a guardian or conservator. Sadly, this can lead to horrible financial and/or physical abuse of the individual, so it is best to plan and name a guardian and conservator in your estate planning documents to keep the courts out of the picture entirely.
Florida Guardian And Conservator Responsibilities
Depending on the extent of the person’s incapacity, a court-appointed guardian or conservator can be given near-complete control over your life.
There are two decision-making areas where a guardian or conservator has authority: decisions about your well-being and finances.
- Decisions about well-being include determining your place of residence, your attending physicians, and your medical treatment.
- Decisions about your finances include how your home is paid for, your income usage, whether to pursue legal actions on your behalf, how to manage your assets, filing your insurance claims, and many other matters.
Usually, one person is appointed for both roles, but the court can also split the responsibilities among multiple parties. For example, one person may oversee the financial decisions, while another person handles the living arrangements and healthcare in Florida.
The Palm Beach County court often requires the guardian and conservator to file detailed status reports such as financial accountings at regular intervals or whenever important decisions are made, such as when an asset is sold or when you require a substantial expense for your care.
Some of the most common duties of Florida adult guardians and conservators include:
- Paying your bills
- Determining where you live
- Monitoring your residence and living conditions
- Providing consent for your medical treatments
- Deciding how your finances are handled, including how your assets are invested and if any assets should be liquidated
- Managing your real estate and other property
- Keeping detailed records of all expenditures and other financial transactions
- Making your end-of-life and other palliative-care decisions
The Importance of Advance Planning for Guardianship and Conservatorship in West Palm Beach, Florida
The best course of action for a Florida family is to do your estate planning ahead of time to name who is your preferred guardian and conservator so that your family will not have to deal with a courtroom or lawyers in Palm Beach County.
Unfortunately, some of our West Palm Beach clients did not do estate planning soon enough, and we were called upon to help their family members establish guardianship or conservatorship. If you did not establish a Florida estate plan soon enough, our experienced West Palm Beach elder law lawyers could offer Palm Beach County families legal advice.