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A Dangerous Curve Ahead: Access to Florida Guardianship Proceedings at Risk

September 09, 2020


Yesterday, the Orlando Sentinel reported that The Florida Bar Board of Governors, at the recommendation of The Real Property Probate and Trust Law Section of The Florida Bar, is considering a proposal to change Florida’s guardianship law to further reduce and limit the information available to family members regarding their loved ones involved in guardianship proceedings. In addition to limitations on family members, the media and other groups would also be barred from accessing guardianship records if the new proposal is adopted and ultimately ends up in the legislature.

For a lawyer who frequently represents the family members of wards involved in Florida guardianship proceedings, this recommendation is extremely concerning since it would further limit information available to the families who are looking out for the best interests of their loved ones. If the new proposal becomes law, family members would be left in the dark when, for example, a guardian moves to sell a ward’s home and would be unable to receive and object to filings related to things such as the payment of fees for guardians or their lawyers – essentially giving carte blanche to utilize a ward’s assets to benefit the guardian and the lawyers who represent the guardian without appropriate checks and balances to protect the ward. 

As we have repeatedly seen with the Rebecca Fierle professional guardian scandal, which resulted in the untimely death of at least one ward, family members play a vital role in keeping their loved ones safe. Sometimes guardianship proceedings are commenced without notice or an opportunity for family members to be heard at the initial hearing. When family members are not involved at the onset (and adequately represented by their own counsel), there is a higher likelihood for abuse, exploitation, and neglect of the ward and the ward’s express wishes. Pursuant to Florida law, the ward will be assigned a lawyer who is charged with representing the ward’s express wishes, not what the lawyer deems to be in the ward’s best interest. Nevertheless, left unchecked, the attorney for the ward has wide latitude and power to make significant changes affecting the ward’s life and livelihood and may not be arguing what is in the ward’s express interest.

It is extremely important for families to be represented and engaged in the guardianship process to protect their loved ones, even in cases when a professional guardian is appointed. Denying access to family members or other interested persons would further jeopardize the transparency and accountability of the guardianship system which may result in higher incidents of fraud, abuse, and neglect of Florida’s most vulnerable population.

If someone you love is involved in a guardianship proceeding, please contact Melody B. Lynch at 407-418-6447 or melody.lynch@lowndes-law.com to find out how Lowndes can assist you in the process.


This article is informational only. You should consult an attorney before acting or failing to act. The law may change rapidly and no warranty is given. LOWNDES DISCLAIMS ALL IMPLIED WARRANTIES AND WITHOUT LIMITATION, ANY WARRANTY OF FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. ALL ARTICLES ARE PROVIDED AS IS AND WITH ALL FAULTS. Consult a Lowndes attorney if you wish to establish an attorney/client relationship.
Melody

Melody Lynch focuses her practice on probate, trust & fiduciary litigation, contested guardianships, and complex business disputes. Her MBA complements her law degree when she analyzes financial statements and handles other complicated issues involving assets. 

A significant portion of Melody’s practice is devoted to resolving conflicts among family members and other estate beneficiaries, fights over missing assets and property ownership, claims by or against fiduciaries, guardianship challenges, and other proceedings requiring the interpretation of wills and trusts. She frequently helps charitable organizations, foundations, trustees and other institutional beneficiaries of large estates navigate the probate process. Whether in or out of the courtroom, Melody handles these delicate – and often emotional – issues not just with legal proficiency but with compassion as well.  

Melody’s experience extends to other business disputes too, particularly in the employment law arena with matters involving restrictive covenants as well as non-compete and non-disclosure agreements. She has protected employers in a wide range of industries, including medical devices, pest control, physicians and physician practices. 

In addition, she is a Guardian ad Litem for the Legal Aid Society where she represents the interests of abused and neglected children. She also is a pro bono attorney for Seniors First where she represents the interests of indigent elderly wards. 

The court room isn’t the only stage on which Melody has appeared. Before pursuing her career in law, Melody attended college on a ballet scholarship and was an apprentice dancer with a professional ballet company. A native of Orlando, her passion for both the arts and the area informs her leadership roles in the Central Florida community. She serves as president-elect of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, was named to the prestigious Orlando Business Journal’s "40 under 40" list, and was awarded the Presidential Leadership Award by the Orange County Bar Association. 

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