The time may come when a parent or spouse is no longer able to make decisions or care for themselves. Most parents and spouses will not alert family members of their diminished capacity. What happens when a parent or spouse is lacking capacity, but does not want help or refuses to accept that assistance is necessary?
Here is an example of how a family can get a Florida guardianship of an incapacitated loved one: Ruth was 76 years old and had recently lost her husband to prostate cancer. Ruth’s son and daughter were worried about their mother, as she had been acting a bit different after their father’s passing. Ruth’s children thought that their mother was simply grieving and needed their love and patience. As time passed Ruth’s behavior did not improve and her children started to worry. Ruth began roaming the neighborhood at odd hours and needed assistance from community members to find her way back home. When Ruth’s children inquired with their mother as to her health and state of mind Ruth would simply say, “I am just fine.” A short time later Ruth started a small fire in her kitchen and her house alarm system sent the fire department over to her home. On another occasion Ruth visited the bank and made a very large withdrawal from her savings account. Ruth’s son asked his mother what she had done with the money in her savings account. Ruth could not recall what she had done with the funds. In fact, Ruth did not even remember visiting the bank. Ruth’s children were now aware that their mother was not getting better and that they were going to have to do something to help. Ruth continued to refuse assistance and maintained that she did not need any help.
Ruth’s children will unfortunately need to sue their mother so that a legal determination can be made as to her capacity. Any adult in Florida can file a petition with a court to determine another’s incapacity in what is known as a guardianship proceeding. A court would appoint a 3-member examining committee that would review and report on the alleged incapacity. The court would also appoint an attorney to represent the alleged incapacitated person if that person had not engaged their own attorney. The court supervised guardianship proceeding would continue from this point so that the court may determine whether the alleged incapacitated person is in fact totally or partially incapacitated under Florida law. Should the court find a person to be incapacitated and a guardianship warranted, the court would next need to appoint the appropriate guardian(s).
Prior to her decline, Ruth had options that could have lessened or even avoided many of the above-described headaches; She certainly would have preferred to avoid the stress, time, expense, and public nature of a court-supervised guardianship proceeding. Effective planning tools like a durable power of attorney, living trust, and pre-need guardianship designation could have saved Ruth and her family from a great deal of stress during an already difficult and emotional time in their lives.
A Florida durable power of attorney allows a person to act on another person’s behalf regardless of the latter’s capacity. The power of attorney is effective immediately upon signing, so it is extremely important to choose a trusted individual to act under such power. A living or revocable trust allows a person to name a successor manager of their assets should they become incapacitated. A designation of pre-need guardian allows a person to elect who will serve as their guardian(s) should a court ever determine that a guardianship is necessary.
There is no such thing as too early when it comes to planning for the unexpected. Simple and effective estate planning allows a person to answer the question of what will happen if I am unable to care for myself. A thoughtful plan can also provide direction and simplicity to loved-ones, ultimately working to prevent the unsavory lawsuit against Mom. If you are interested in learning more about Florida durable power of attorney or a Florida guardianship, please contact our estate planning or guardianship teams.