To me, the most important role of government is to keep Floridians safe. When we face a threat that poses harm to Florida families, law enforcement is there to protect us. When a hurricane barrels through our state, destroying homes and communities, a coordinated emergency response team descends to rescue those in need and provide food and water to those without.
But what about some of our seniors and other vulnerable adults who may not be capable of making independent decisions?
For many of these, a court-appointed guardian acts as their advocate and helps make decisions in their best interest. When I learned that there were a number of professional guardians who were charged with caring for others in need, but who used that responsibility to prey on these innocent people, I knew that the Legislature needed to step in and protect them.
In recent months, the news has reported stories of individuals serving as professional guardians throughout Florida who had committed terrible acts, leaving their wards in financial ruin or, worse, at the end of their life.
In one example, a guardian robbed her ward of money. In another, a guardian sold the ward’s house under market value. And in other examples, guardians signed “Do Not Resuscitate” orders for their ward without their consent or the permission of their loved ones. In these tragedies, the consequences were severe, and in some cases, fatal.
Most of the court-appointed guardians in this state are caring, dedicated individuals. However, seeing that a few bad actors have taken advantage of Floridians who need help the most, it is time for the rules to change.
That’s why, in partnership with Representative Colleen Burton (R, Lakeland), I filed legislation that creates additional protections for Florida’s most vulnerable adults. Our proposal aims to prevent professional guardians from preying on the innocent individuals they are charged to protect.
This legislation, SB 994 in the Senate and HB 709 in the House, would increase protections for individuals under guardianships by eliminating conflicts of interest, ensuring the vulnerable adults’ finances are protected, and prohibiting the guardian from signing “Do Not Resuscitate (DNR)” orders without permission from the court.
We developed this legislation in partnership with key stakeholders in the guardian program, including Secretary Richard Prudom of the Department of Elder Affairs, attorneys, Clerks of Court, professional and public guardians, and advocates for individuals under guardianship.
Floridians who require the help and support of a guardian should know they will be safe and protected. They should not have to fear untrustworthy criminals seeking to steal their valuables and deprive them of a well-lived life with friends and loved ones. This legislation will do just that.
Kathleen Passidomo is Florida’s Senate Majority Leader and the State Senator for District 28.