When most think of guardianship, they tend to think of someone who looks after a child. However, what happens when someone is over the age of 18, but is unable to care for himself? If you believe someone in your family, who is over 18, is unable to care for themselves, then guardianship may be the answer for you. A court can appoint a guardian to care for someone who is deemed unable to care for him or her self. There is a very specific process one must go through in order to be appointed a guardian; however, so it is important that you educate yourself on the proper procedures and laws involved in being appointed a guardian.
How to Become a Guardian in Florida
In order to even be considered by the court as a potential guardian in the Sunshine State, you must be over 18, have a clean criminal background (no felony convictions), and be a Florida resident. It is possible to become a guardian in Florida if you are not a resident of Florida, but you must be related to the ward. “Ward” is the term used to describe someone the court determines is in need of a guardian, as that person becomes a “ward of the court.”
If you fit the requirements to be considered for guardianship and wish to be appointed a guardian, you must file the following three documents:
- Petition to Determine Incapacity
- Petition for Appointment of Guardian
- Application for Appointment of Guardian
These three documents play different roles in the court’s determination. The first, the Petition to Determine Incapacity, starts the process of the court examining the ward’s ability, or lack thereof, to care for him or her self. The Petition for Appointment of Guardian is the document that asks the court to appoint a guardian to care for the ward. The Application for Appointment of Guardian is what asks the court to specifically appoint you as that guardian.
Once a Petition to Determine Incapacity is filed in Florida, the court will appoint three people to examine the ward’s mental and physical capacities. All three people making up this panel will be doctors. Two of the three doctors making up the panel will serve as expert witnesses. At least one of the two expert doctors must be an expert in the type of incapacity the ward suffers from. For example, if you’re seeking guardianship based on someone’s mental incapacity, then the court will need to appoint an expert psychiatrist. The court may also choose to appoint an attorney to represent the ward, if it is deemed necessary to protect the ward’s best interest in the proceeding.
Each of the three doctors will then meet with the ward independently and submit their findings and recommendations to the court. The court will then consider the recommendations and decide whether or not the ward is in need of a guardian.
If the court decides a guardian is proper in your situation, then your application for guardianship will be considered. If the court decides you are a proper guardian, you will be appointed.
My Responsibilities after Guardianship Appointment
Getting appointed as a guardian in Florida is just the beginning. Actually serving as a guardian is a huge responsibility, and Florida law has requirements you must meet in order to retain your guardianship appointment. Guardians in Florida are required to attend an 8-hour training course and pay any and all court fees associated with the guardianship process. These fees can be as high as $5,000-$7,000. Guardians in Florida are also required to undergo stringent credit and criminal background checks and file a certificate of completion of those background checks with the court.
Most importantly, however, you are now responsible for making decisions on behalf of the ward. You are responsible for making all of their decisions for them – financial, legal, and medical. A guardian is required by Florida law to make any and all decisions with only the best interest of the ward in mind. Being someone else’s guardian is no small task. It comes with significant responsibilities both to the ward and to the State of Florida.