For older adults needing intensive and complete care, guardianship may be the best option. As opposed to Geriatric Care Management, where a family contracts with someone to assist them through the aging process, guardianship is a legal process. It is a deeply involved process which is generally the last available option. As the Florida courts note, “Guardianship is only warranted when no less restrictive alternative—such as durable power of attorney, trust, health care surrogate or proxy, or other form of pre-need directive—is found by the court to be appropriate and available.” Generally, when a person has become incapable of managing his or her financial or personal affairs, a court appointed guardian becomes responsible for the management of a client’s affairs. Because it is a legal process all guardians are accountable to the local court, have a rigorous approval process for many decisions and must provide an annual written report of actions taken and services provided. Guardians can be family members if they complete the guardian training process and are qualified under the law. It is important to note and Florida courts state two types of guardianship exist :
A limited guardianship is appropriate if the court finds the family member lacks the capacity to do some, but not all, of the tasks necessary to care for his or her person or property; and if the individual does not have pre-planned, written instructions for all aspects of his or her life.
In this type of guardianship, a person is appointed by the court to exercise all legal rights and powers of the adult.
GUARDIANS CAN BE ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:
- A family member or friend
- Any resident of this state who is 18 years of age or older.
- A nonresident of the state may serve as guardian of a family member if they are:
- Related by blood;
- A legally adopted child or adoptive parent;
- A spouse, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, niece, or nephew of the person;
- A Professional Guardian
- Public or Professional Guardians are needed when a person does not have the ability to pay for a guardian or there are no family members who are willing to take care of the client. Professional guardians undergo a training process and are appointed by the court. Florida has 17 professional guardianship offices.
Guardian services are paid by the client unless they cannot afford it, in which case the state supplements payment to the guardian.
What do guardians do?
Guardians can do the following:
- Medical Treatment: A guardian may manage personal, medical and mental health services for the person including but not limited to medical treatment, medications, and end-of-life decisions.
- Health and Wellness: A guardian may consent to and monitor non-medical services such as counseling, education, service groups, or classes.
- Confidential Information: A guardian may release and/ or obtain confidential information about the person.
- Property Management: A guardian manages a person’s property including any financial transactions with said property, if approved through the courts. A guardian may also select residential living facilities for the ward, if necessary.
How Can I Know if my Family Member Needs a Guardian?
Guardianship options are meant for those individuals who have a complete loss of capacity, and there must not be a Power of Attorney or Health Care Surrogate already in place. Loss of capacity is a legal process determined by the court. However, there are warning signs that can assist a family when determining the capacity of their loved one. Any one sign may not be cause for alarm, but should a loved one have multiple signs or if the signs are increasing or become more intense, then a family should consider further investigation.
As we age, our memory becomes less quick as it might have been. However, ongoing forgetfulness is also an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease and other old age-related dementia diseases.
The elderly can be more susceptible to physical injuries because of health changes and general aging. However, if you notice unexplained, consistent injuries, then this could be signs of a deeper issue such as medical changes, medication reactions, memory loss, or other physical impairments.
If a family member’s appearance begins to worsen rapidly, and without explanation, again, there could be more issues at play. Perhaps your loved one is not eating well, not taking medications or has a physical ailment that has remain unchecked.
If your loved one has been handling their financial matters and you begin to notice letters or phone calls from collection agencies, services being shut off or even an increase in purchases from different entities, this could be a sign that something is wrong.
A missed appointment here or there is not usually cause for alarm. If your family member starts missing several doctor appointments, or a regular bridge game though, something more could be happening.
As with all things in life, everyone handles things in different ways. If your loved one starts to show signs of drastic mood changes including periods of extreme joy or extreme sadness, then there could be some deeper mental health issues challenging their way of life.
The care and management of our loved ones is an extremely difficult process and often requires hard decisions to be made. Resources and assistance exists throughout the state to ensure that families and loved ones have the tools they need to make informed and complete decisions. For more information on guardianship click here.