September 13, 2018
Another way Unsupervised Probate Courts Shortchange Families
The Palm Beach Post has taken a leadership position in exposing the serious systemic problems in probate guardianships in Palm Beach County courts. While the focus has been on the ongoing investigations of the alleged multiple abuses of one particular Guardian, Betsy Savitt, and her husband former judge Martin Colin, their alleged longstanding exploitation of the system is hardly unique, is widely imitated by others that we refer to as court insiders all throughout the State of Florida and the nation.
The issue of how dangerous professional guardianship can be for unsuspecting families, especially those who suffer from family dysfunction, has been well documented in local, regional and even national publications including the New Yorker article of November 2017 by Rachel Aviv “How Seniors Lose their Rights” and on websites like www.aaapg.net and in my book “Guardianships And The Elderly The Perfect Crime”.
One particular aspect of the system is especially galling to victims of guardianship abuse. Florida statutes indicate that judges in probate cases are required to insist that guardians, particularly professional guardians, obtain a performance bond to be eligible to be appointed as Guardian in new cases. Typically the value of this bond is around $50,000. The cost of such a bond is minimal and is often charged to the estate of the alleged Ward anyhow. Although judges ofttimes waive the bond requirement as a “professional courtesy” (!!!) to the professional Guardian with which they have an existing trusting relationship, generally speaking a Guardian’s performance bond is thought of as a safeguard against malfeasance by the Guardian. However the reality is something quite different.
First a $50,000 bond is hardly adequate to protect anyone from malfeasance when an estate is worth multiple millions of dollars, as is commonly the case in for-profit guardianships. Secondly, the typical Guardian performance bond can only be attacked once, meaning that it is worth $50,000 at most no matter how many cases of malfeasance have been alleged. Third, in order to even attempt to collect on a performance bond, a claimant must hire an attorney to pursue the claim and that attorney will be opposed by other attorneys from the bonding company. Once a claim is received discovery, depositions, testimony, hearings and appeals could not only take up to several years to complete but would also generate legal bills for the claimant of far more than $50,000, making the entire exercise pointless. Not only that , but should the claim be defeated, the claimant would be on the hook for all legal bills incurred including those of the attorneys for the bonding company. These realities help to explain why there have been almost no claims against Florida Guardian bonds for decades and why the entire system is a sham. As always, the only winners are the court insiders with their judicial immunity and big business bonding companies that almost never have to pay claims. And let’s not forget the Bar leadership who have profited handsomely from their stakes in the bonding and malpractice companies they created for their members.
The victims of guardianship exploitation and abuse (many, many more than just the 13 cases of Betsy Savitt described in the Palm Beach Post Series) deserve far more protection from such a fatally flawed system and more importantly so do the potential new victims that will undoubtedly be involved in probate guardianship contests going forward as the baby boomers age and become demented.
The current system utterly fails to prevent professional Guardian exploitation of innocent and vulnerable seniors and their families. In addition to absolute judicial and quasijudicial immunity automatically provided the judge, lawyers and guardians, (which almost completely prevents filing of lawsuits against court insiders), plus an astounding total lack of monitoring, supervision or supervision on the part of regulatory bodies including the Supreme Court, the Judicial Qualifications Commission and of course the Florida bar, court insiders are free to pervert the laws designed to protect innocent vulnerable elders and their families with impunity and without the slightest fear of retribution or discipline.
We urgently call on Chief judge Krista Marx and Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga to immediately require a mandatory minimum performance bond of $1 million for every existing guardianship, for every professional Guardian and every new professional guardianship case created. In cases with estates worth more than $1 million, the performance bond should be set at no less than 100% of the value of the estate and accrue only to the benefit of the estate and its heirs. Public servants Marx and La Barga have the authority to impose such a rule with no need for legislative changes, if they have the courage to do the right thing and fealty toward and compassion for the citizens for whom they work.
Such actions would, admittedly in a small way, begin to hold the probate equity guardianship system responsible for the harm it has done to citizens of Palm Beach County and the state. It would be a start.
Sam J Sugar MD
Founder Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship
855 913 5337 x 101