When it comes to elder law and guardianships, the Sunshine State is more like the wild west. Nursing homes and hospitals are a fertile hunting ground for unscrupulous attorneys who may convince residents to sign documents authorizing them to commence guardianship proceedings on their behalf. In many Florida counties, this may lead to a friendly judge appointing a total stranger to handle the finances of an unsuspecting senior citizen with the result being a loss of control over that person’s assets under the color of law.
While there are efforts underway to institute reforms over Florida guardianships, elder care attorneys have a powerful lobby in the legislature and the passage of legislation to control guardianship abuses is by no means certain. There are numerous instances of adult children learning that their parents have given up the keys to their assets –homes, bank accounts, everything– to a court-appointed guardian who may systematically have drained the assets of their loved one to a point of poverty.
A revocable living trust can not only provide for avoiding the cost and delays of the probate process in Florida but, equally important, it will protect the assets and lifestyle of a senior citizen from attack not only by unscrupulous lawyers and judges but also from greedy and disloyal relatives. Your lawblogger notes that virtually every family has one or two of those. I have made a good living over the years fighting to undo the damage they have done to my clients but it is far easier to avoid the expense and aggravation of dealing with a rogue family member by putting proper protection in place before the problems arise. A revocable living trust can easily be drawn by an experienced Florida lawyer at a reasonable cost, often well under a thousand dollars.
Those of us from New York are well protected by New York’s guardianship laws and procedures. Strict guidelines are in place to prevent the embezzlement of assets. Florida law offers far less protection and those who move down unaware of the differences in the legal climate risk a rude awakening when least equipped to deal with it.