It can be difficult to watch our parents grow older, especially if one or both of them suffer from dementia or another condition that causes them to lose the ability to make decisions and properly care for themselves. In such cases, guardianship might be an option for concerned family members.
In the state of Florida, a guardianship is a legal proceeding in the circuit courts in which a guardian is appointed to exercise the legal rights and decisions of a person who has become mentally incapacitated.
Guardianship can be a difficult, emotional process. A potential guardian must go into it understanding that he or she is taking over a loved one’s legal rights. Despite the harsh nature of the process, it often is the only way to gain the legal authority to make decisions and carry out many essential tasks that the elderly person can no longer handle.
In Florida, an adult can file a petition with the courts that includes facts as to why he or she believes the elderly parent or relative is incapacitated. The courts will appoint a three-member committee of medical experts who will evaluate the situation and submit findings to the court. The evaluation includes an exam of the person in question: a physical exam, mental health screening and a functional assessment.
The elderly parent can have an attorney represent him or her in court, or the courts will appoint one. If the panel of experts deems the person incapacitated, the guardianship request is approved unless there are lesser restrictive alternatives to guardianship that properly address the person’s incapacity. The judge will dismiss the petition, however, if the person is determined to not suffer any mental incapacity.
When an elderly parent has a guardian appointed, the adult child’s responsibilities may include:
- Determining where the parent will live, including nursing home and other residential care
- Keeping an eye on their residence
- Providing consent for medical treatments
- Handling finances, including determining what types of financial benefits the parent needs, how property will be invested, paying bills and maintaining assets
- Consenting to services like counseling
- Releasing confidential information to doctors and others
- Deciding end-of-life medical options
- Reporting to the court about their guardianship status.
Our experienced and trusted estate planning attorneys have been serving Treasure Coast families for decades, and Michael Fowler is one of only nine attorneys in the state of Florida who is double board-certified in wills trusts and estates and in elder law. Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.