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Guardianship changes on legislators’ table

Florida Capitol (Special to WJXT)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – State lawmakers were told that Florida collects little data on guardianships during a Wednesday committee meeting.

A task force is recommending changes, but there are still large holes in the system.

Doug Franks spent years trying to free his mother from guardianship. He succeeded just weeks before she died.

Franks had tough words this summer when he spoke to the state’s guardianship task force.

“Our legal system is broken. And it rewards people who want to extract money from the elderly. There is no oversight. There is still none,” said Franks.

The House Civil Justice and Property Rights Sub Committee heard from experts Wednesday.

One concern is that Florida does not allow courts in other states to talk with Florida courts.

Elder Law Attorney Victoria Heuler spoke about a hypothetical brother.

“He then starts a guardianship up in Georgia. Because he hates my guts and he wants all mom’s money. Now she’s in Georgia. How do I go in Georgia and get her?” said Heuler.

Also clear from the meeting is that there is no data on who, what, or why people are in guardianship.

There’s also no data on guardians who are taking care of what the law calls a ‘ward’.

“The state doesn’t track guardianships. There’s no database that tells us how many cases of guardianship there are. There’s no data that shows us whether there are guardians who are bad actors,” said Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith.

Recommendations from a statewide guardianship task force include creating databases, asking judges to consider less restrictive measures before guardianship, and more training for everyone involved.

Doug Franks thinks not all the right people were on the task force.

“Law enforcement. That was huge. They needed to be a part of this because it is a criminal enterprise,” said Franks.

And while Franks was able to free his mother, the committee heard that once someone is under guardianship, few are freed, except by death.

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