Article Detail

News & Knowledge

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 is a litigator and founding member of the firm’s Privacy, Cybersecurity and eDiscovery Group. She focuses her legal practice on complex business litigation, banking litigation, probate & trust litigation, guardianship, intellectual property litigation, labor & employment litigation, family law and step-parent adoption.


Melody  has worked on matters involving a wide variety of business disputes, employment contracts, non-competition agreements, non-disclosure agreements and trade secrets. Her estate litigation practice focuses on matters involving wills, trusts, or guardianships.

A frequent author and lecturer on the topics of employment law, eDiscovery, workplace privacy and technology, Melody assists clients in preparing document retention and destruction policies. She has litigated complex cases involving voluminous amounts of electronically stored information (ESI), designing review platforms and managing document preservation, collection, and production efforts through settlement or trial.

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 danced with a professional ballet company as an apprentice dancer. Lynch received her bachelor’s degree from Butler University, is a graduate of Stetson University College of Law and holds an M.B.A from Stetson University. She often calls on her educational background, augmented by experience, to counsel clients on complex business and employment matters. She has represented clients in the health care, environmental, hospitality, and banking industries, among others.

Additionally, Melody is heavily involved in the Central Florida community and has been awarded with the Presidential Leadership Award by the Orange County Bar Association. Additionally she was named "40 under 40" by the Orlando Business Journal. She holds positions on boards of several organizations, which are all included below. She is a Guardian ad Litem for the Legal Aid Society where she represents the interests of abused and neglected children. She is a pro bono attorney for Seniors First where she represents the interests of indigent elderly wards. 

Meritas Law Firms Worldwide logo
Do Your Part Logo