On a Sunday in December, Don Herman looked at the front page of his Herald-Tribune and was carried back to a harrowing time in his life three years before.
He remembered the two weeks in 2012 when he and his wife, Kathryn, were held under guardianship by the state of Florida — and he lost her forever.
After the publication of “The Kindness of Strangers: Inside Elder Guardianship in Florida,” three bills to reform the system were introduced in this year’s Legislature. This unprecedented attention to a little-known aspect of probate law — designed to protect older adults from abuse or exploitation when they lack capacity to make decisions — led to media coverage throughout the state, and made more Floridians aware of flaws in the adult guardianship process.
Only one bill made it through a session truncated by an impasse over Medicaid expansion to reach Gov. Rick Scott’s desk for signing. That is HB5 — sponsored by Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples — which tightens many aspects of the statute that made it easy to seize control of elders’ assets, and also more clearly spells out the duties of a state-appointed guardian.
“That’s important,” Passidomo said. “With the bad guardians, at least now we can say, if they’re not acting in the best interests of the ward, it gives tools to interested parties to challenge the actions of guardians that are bad. And guardians that exploit their wards can be criminally prosecuted, which is huge.”