Advances in medical care and life-prolonging techniques have led to increased longevity, making it more likely that a person will eventually undergo some degree of mental or physical disability. Consequently, every person should plan for this possibility. Once you become unable to physically care for yourself or manage your financial affairs, most planning opportunities no longer exist.
If you have not designated a person to act as your “attorney-in-fact” to make health and financial decisions for you in the event you become incapacitated, the only way for a family member to act on your behalf is through a formal guardianship. Generally, a guardian is appointed by the court to look after an incapacitated person’s physical wellbeing, financial wellbeing, or both.
The Florida guardianship statutes are designed to preserve as many of the incapacitated person’s rights as possible and delegate to the guardian power over only those rights necessary to ensure the incapacitated person’s wellbeing. Examples of the rights a guardian may exercise are to apply for government benefits, determine where the incapacitated person lives, and to consent to medical and mental health treatment for the incapacitated person.
To be eligible to be appointed a guardian, you must be 18 years or older and a resident of Florida or, if a non-resident, be related by blood, adoption, or marriage to the incapacitated person. No person who has been convicted of a felony shall be appointed to act as guardian.
Any individual who is appointed guardian must receive instruction and training which covers the guardian’s legal duties and responsibilities, the rights of the incapacitated person, the availability of local resources to aid the incapacitated person, and the preparation of annual reports required by the court. In Leon County, this training is provided by the Big Bend Chapter of the Florida State Guardianship Association. It can be attended either in person or by DVD. Information regarding the course can be found at bigbendfsga.org.
Obviously, deciding whether a loved is incapacitated to the point where he or she needs a court-appointed guardian is not a pleasant job, but it is one that can be made easier and more confidently with the help and advice of an attorney. If you are facing this difficult task in your family, please call David Switalski.