An open letter to Governor Ron De Santis
Can guardianship abuse be fixed in Florida ?
One of the goals of our organization from its inception was to bring public attention to the abuses so commonly seen in Guardianship and in particular in professional guardianships. The idea was that if enough people became educated and concerned that ultimately there would be political and governmental action to address the issue. That has begun to happen.
Recently Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida proposed a dramatic increase in funding to the State agency that AAAPG help to create within the department of Elder Affairs in the State of Florida, namely the office of public and professional Guardians (OPPG). He has proposed millions of dollars in new funding, new positions, new investigators and more staff to deal with the abuse we have been describing for the last several years.
So we should be happy, right?
I’m afraid not.
I am a big supporter of this Governor and I deeply appreciate his interest in our issues and concerns, but I believe that his approach is flawed. I fully recognize that throwing money at a problem is the way Government at every level deals with sticky issues. The idea is that if you create a commission, investigator, committee, panels and advisers you can more easily identify and apprehend evil doers and hold them accountable.
The trouble with this approach when it comes to guardianship however is that it is activated only long after the criminality has occurred when a better approach would be to prevent the criminality in the first place. To demonstrate, if a police officer sees someone breaking and entering into a home they would arrest that person immediately. They would not wait for the burglary to take place, for the burglar to go back to his hideout and the loot to be fenced and the burglar to use the money on a Caribbean vacation before taking action. They would act at the first demonstrable sign of a violation of the law as is their Duty. This is why we have police officers Patrol neighborhoods to prevent crimes from occurring. But one of the incredibly frustrating aspects of the overt crimes being committed within guardianships approved by the court is that rather than setting up barriers to the exploitation of vulnerable seniors, the courts have become enablers of the crimes committed in guardianships. Rather than prevent elder abuse against vulnerable seniors and others, some courts have become an untouchable and unassailable cabal in which massive numbers of guardianships are created every year many of which are overtly improper and illegitimate and result in awful tragic consequences.
Waiting to catch guardianship abusers until their victims’ assets have been completely dissipated with no likelihood of restitution, waiting to catch elder abusers until after their victims have been destroyed by isolation and massive over medication, waiting until Wards are murdered by inappropriate DNR orders is hardly the best way to deal with court-approved criminality.
There are a number of red flags that reveal a very high probability of abuses in guardianship. Multiple informal and formal complaints from family members, invalidating valid advance directives, excessive litigation, failure to properly file required reports, repeatedly moving the ward to different locations to isolate them, suspicious lowball sales of the wards property, denigration of anyone who objects to the guardianship, guardians being awarded hundreds of wards—by a single judge– they could not possibly care for properly, examining committees consisting of only one physician for decades and stay away orders are all reliable indicators of ward and family exploitation and abuse.
I can only hope that the Governor and all elected officials will soon understand the urgent need for effective deterrents to prevent these abuses, like meaningful citizen oversight over the courts and JQC, rapid response teams of investigators from Law Enforcement who can quickly respond to reports of abuse, improved training and education for APS workers who now can sometimes actually generate abusive guardianships, prohibition of “bounties” and finder fees paid by court insiders to health care workers and others for referrals of new cases, assistance to pro se litigants who cannot afford to fight in court for their loved ones, criminal prosecution for crimes against the vulnerable and importantly, restitution (called surcharges) of monies improperly taken by the guardianship insiders and a long needed cap on legal fees.
The current probate equity court system is severely skewed to the industrial production of more and more guardianships. It is a unique American tribunal in which an innocent ward is considered guilty of incapacity without any actual evidence until proven otherwise. Once conscripted, death is the only escape from their life sentence for almost every ward
Governor DeSantis, thank you for what you are proposing to do. It is a good start.
But there is much more work to do. Please let us help you make this broken system right.