When an adult with mental impairments or special needs is found to be incapable of managing his or her personal or financial affairs, family members or other responsible parties can petition the Florida courts for the legal right to be in control.
Here in Florida and in many other states across the country, this overall process is called a Guardianship. Other states (like California) call the process a Conservatorship. In Florida, we also have Conservatorships, but it’s is not a title that’s interchangeable with a Guardianship. In our state, Guardianships and Conservatorships deal with entirely different circumstances. Here’s a brief overview of what each means:
Florida law gives a legal guardian the right to oversee an incapacitated adult’s physical and financial well-being if it is determined that the individual is not capable of doing so on his or her own. The guardian will have the right to make decisions regarding the individual’s future and overall care, including:
- Managing or applying for benefits such as Medicaid and SSI
- Paying bills
- Creating or managing Special Needs Trusts
- Investing money
- Managing assets
- Preparing tax returns
- Managing medical care and communicating with doctors
- Making decisions on housing and schooling
- The ability to vote
- The ability to marry
In most other states, a conservator is a person who has the right to manage the incapacitated adult’s financial affairs only. This person can be different than the individual who is appointed as guardian of the person.
However, in the state of Florida, a Conservator is someone who is appointed by the court to manage the estate of someone who is considered to be an “absentee.” In the majority of cases, the person in question is either missing or presumed deceased. Conservatorships in Florida are undoubtedly a difficult process, but the eventual court order can provide surviving loved ones with the ability to keep paying bills, access bank accounts, and make all other financial decisions until there is a resolution of the missing person’s case.
All Decisions Are Up to a Judge
No matter what the circumstance is, it’s important to remember that the appointment of an individual’s Guardian or Conservator here in Florida is ultimately up to the court. There is a formal legal process that must be followed to serve in these positions, and they almost always require help from a qualified attorney.
If you are reading this article today because you have questions about Guardianships or Conservatorships here in Florida, or if you want to begin the process of petitioning the court for the right to oversee the affairs of a loved one with disabilities or special needs, we invite you to contact our Tampa-area law firm at (813) 438-8503 to schedule a consultation.