TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Imagine having to pay someone to open your mother's or father's mail, even though they live just down the street. That's just one of the horror stories that state lawmakers heard from Floridians whose parents have been placed in a guardianship.
A new law on the books hopes to remedy the problem and others.
Doug Franks has to pay an hourly rate to visit his mother, Ernestine. He's part of a growing national movement seeking changes in guardianships.
"We, simply, the families are isolated so they don't know what's going on," Franks said. "Their wards, the people who have suffered a civil death, who have no rights, are then taken advantage of financially."
The Frankses' nightmare is being played out in thousands of families across Florida.
"They charge to open a letter $80," Franks said.
Legislation taking effect July 1 hopes to put the brakes on questionable guardians.
"If a guardian exploits their ward, there will be criminal penalties. They can go to jail," said Rep. Kathleen Passidomo.
The new law also puts restrictions on judges who appoint guardians.
Franks has tried to get the courts to reopen his mother's case, without luck.
"In Mr. Franks' case, we are hopeful he can go to the court and say, 'I object to what's going on here,' and the courts, based on the new statute, will hear him out," Passidomo said.
Even supporters say the legislation signed by the governor solves only half the problem.
State Sen. Nancy Detert introduced legislation to license public, for-profit guardians. It didn't pass.
"Nobody is regulating what they do, and they can take your mail, take your money and be in charge of your health care, cut you off from your relatives, and there is nobody who can say they can't do it," Detert said.
But for the next year, public, for-profit guardians will be unregulated. Detert's advice is for families to beware.
The number of public, for-profit guardians has grown from 23 to more than 450 in the last five years.
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