Monthly case histories about the real guardianship experience
Guardianship Spotlight:
Britton Swank, Esq., FSGA Member
How I Became Involved in Guardianship
Britton Swank

In 2003 I started practicing with an  elder law firm right out of law school and one of the earliest memorable experiences was my first guardianship advocacy case. It involved working with a sibling of a disabled adult child and fortunately there was a tight family relationship.

One of the things that we hear from parents of adult disabled children is, "What will happen to my child when I am gone?" It was good to see that in the absense of the parent in this case, another child stepped up to the plate and clearly cared for their sibling. Through the guardian advocacy statute we had a process that was not invasive or as complicated as a full blown guardianship.

It was meaningful to see a family working together to take care of their disabled adult child and for me to be able to make their life a little easier was rewarding.

That showed me that guardianship would be an area of law where I could really help someone and feel good about what I was doing.

The Boldness of Scammers

A local 84 year old widow was having memory impairment issues and being exploited by scammers who we believe were from Jaimaca. She was writing them checks in the thousands of dollars in exchange for a prize that didn't exist.

The turning point in the case came when somebody at her bank became suspicious of the large checks and alerted authorities.

However, despite the hard work and persistence by law enforcement and the victim's family, the bad guys were getting more and more bold. For example, when the victim's phone number was being changed to stop the fraudulent calls, the scammers would actually call the sheriff's office to "see if she was okay" because as long as they knew she was alive and in the home they were going to keep trying to get more money. In fact, when a detective was going out to the victim's home to investigate, she was already packing her bags to catch an airplane to pick up her prize.

Although it was too late to stop the more than $50,000 she sent the scammers, the bank was able to stop payments of $15,000 and $10,000. There were many other checks that had been written and ready to send, a total of approximately $150,000!

Through an emergency temporary guardianship, we were able to get her into a safe place and prevent more problems.  I was her court-appointed attorney and during the process family members were concerned that the guardianship would splinter their individual relationships. However, that never happened, which was rewarding.

Today, despite the victim's memory impairment issues, she cherishes independence and can function somewhat on her own with her daughter as guardian. The woman is safe in an assisted living facility and it has worked out well, considering the further damage that could have happened.

We utilized the least invasive methods available, allowing the woman to have as much freedom as she could, which should be the goal whenever possible.

What question do I get asked the most?

"Why can guardianship sometimes be expensive?"

The petitioner and the alleged incapacitated person both need attorneys and then the system provides a panel of skilled medical professionals that determines actual incapacity. Everybody has to be paid for their expertise and time. But we don't take your rights away lightly and that's why the system works the way it does. It's as serious as it gets when we are talking about people's basic rights and none of us would want that taken away without due process.

For those who cannot afford a private guardians or if there is no family member or friend available to serve, contact the Florida Office of Public and Professional Guardians, which provides public guardians. (850) 414-2381 or you can  email them.
What is a good tip for those selecting a guardian?

Hopefully guardianship is not necessary for you beause it's a difficult, expensive process for a family. However, it's also a critical safety net for people who become incapacitated and don't have advance directives, which make your medical treatment desires known in case you become unable to express them yourself. Guardianship is always a last resort so be sure to plan for incapacity first. It is the least expensive route.

However, if you must go through guardianship, seek assistance from the Florida State Guardianship association or its local affiliates. They have excellent resources and can offer proper guidance.

- Britton
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