Defund Probate, don’t defend it!


The Palm Beach Post has done a wonderful job of exposing fatal flaws in Probate court in Palm Beach County that are reflective of identical crises throughout the State.

Given the countless complaints and news stories  about abusive probate guardianships in the State of Florida, there should remain no doubt whatsoever that this court-based process originally designed to protect innocent vulnerable has devolved, in a surprisingly high percentage of cases, into a massive, legalized system of exploitation and elder cleansing in many of  Florida’s 67 counties.

Similarly, despite several consecutive years of reform legislation signed into law designed to curb these abuses by court insiders including judges, guardians and lawyers,  there can be no doubt that these legislative fixes and nibbling around the edges of the statutes and even the creation of the office of professional and private guardians (OPPG), and even the creation of yet another Supreme Court working group to address the problems well  identified in 2003 by a  similar Supreme Court committee, all have failed to make even a dent in the pervasive exploitation of our elders and their families in probate guardianship.

New for-profit guardianships continue to be created on a record pace all over Florida. It is a system out of control. Not one single Guardian or guardian’s attorney has been prosecuted for the myriad of elder abuse felonies that have been reported by the victims and families. No Grand Jury has been empowered; there has been no action by the Atty. General or any State’s Attorney; no Judge has faced any consequences from the Judicial Qualifications Commission for failure to monitor the guardianships he created or for ignoring the well-established advance directives of wards that have been thrown into abusive guardianship thereby enriching court insiders who are empowered to isolate, medicate and take their estate with endless unsupervised and unrestrained billing—all sanctioned by probate judges.

The Bar lawyers who rake in bundles of cash in probate courts—and cause so much legal abuse to wards and families– will never allow caps on their fees or hours as has been suggested as a remedy for court abuse. The Bar literally owns the legislature and would fight to the last drop of blood any attempts to limit their ill-gotten court approved lucre.

For decades, abused family members have attempted to seek redress from every level of government and law enforcement without success. For decades, the federal government including the Senate select committee on aging, the Social Security Administration, Health and Human Services, and the Justice Department have refused to insert or intervene into this multistate mafia like system. The Bar lawyers who write their own “probate rules” for their own benefit show a real disdain for anyone who dares challenge them.

All reasoned efforts by advocates have fallen on deaf ears and abuse and exploitation of our vulnerable continues unabated.

It is therefore reasonable to conclude that an alternative approach above and beyond the typical nostrums on how to demand action from our elected officials must be created.

It is often said that guardianship is all about money and nothing but money. As taxpayers, we have the right to demand that our tax dollars are spent wisely and not used to abuse the citizenry. It is for that reason that I believe the most effective way to curb the abuses in probate court across the State of Florida is to take immediate action in the legislature to at least partially defund all probate courts across the state and divert those dollars into the criminal justice system where it is needed.

Why should we give more and more money to a system that is so obviously dysfunctional? Why should the embarrassing failures of probate court Judges to actually do their jobs—like following the statutes!– be rewarded with raises and more funding? Why should the public be exposed to and pay for a system that exploits our most vulnerable and their families?

The immediate salutary effects of this move would be to reduce the number of new guardianships created, reduce workload on the court, force efficiencies that could save taxpayer dollars, increase staffing for serious criminal court cases which do threaten our safety, and importantly to send a clear and firm message to the independent branch of government known as the Judiciary and their bosses at the Bar who control it that we are fed up with good old boy business as usual and demand change now.

Those who would oppose such a move may one day find themselves or a loved one victimized by court exploitation in probate and rue the day they failed to demand change.

Comments welcome.