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Proposed Legislative Changes to Florida’s Guardianship System

The Florida Guardianship system was formed to provide supervision and safeguards to protect the most vulnerable population in our state. As such, the rights of a person under guardianship are restricted and constrained with the premise of protecting the ward. Lately, there have been several statewide initiatives to improve the system and judicial requirements of guardians.  

Most recently, Florida lawmakers proposed new guardianship bills to provide greater transparency and oversight of guardians and the wards.  Miami Republican Sen. Ileana Garcia and Orlando Democratic Rep. Rita Harris have filed substantively identical bills (Senate Bill 48, House Bill 887) aimed at improving the state guardianship process.  If passed, SB 48 and HB 887, filed Sept. 18 and Dec. 13, respectively, would go into effect July 1, 2024. 

Key elements of Garcia’s legislation are the requirements for:  

  • Public guardians to be appointed on a rotating basis, to ensure due process for each ward to have a guardian selected fairly, without bias or conflict.  
  • The court to establish visitation rights of families, unless there is clear and convincing evidence that such visits would be harmful to the ward.  
  • A reevaluation of the rights of the ward to be conducted every three years, which would include an examination by the examining committee.  Currently, the process for a ward to have their rights restored is cumbersome.   

On December 12, 2023, the Board of County Commissioners of Miami-Dade county passed a resolution to urge the Legislature to enact Garcia’s bill.     

The requirements of these new bills echo the recommendations of the statewide guardianship improvement task force report sponsored by the Florida Clerks of Court Corporation. The top priority of the task force was the establishment of a statewide guardianship database to provide transparency across the state. The system is currently in testing and scheduled to launch April 2024.  Other goals and objectives of the taskforce included standardization of forms to be used by guardians in reporting to the court and the establishment of a court monitor program for an independent review of the cases.  

“The guardianship program is broken and your proposed legislation takes an important step to fix it,” Pinellas County Clerk of Courts Ken Burke, chair of the task force, said in a letter to Garcia and Harris.  Burke acknowledges that other elements of the bill, such as the provisions for a jury trial for certain actions, and financial disclosures to the ward’s beneficiaries, may encounter more resistance. 

On Friday, February 23, 2024, the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section of the Florida Bar Committee on Guardianship, Power of Attorney and Advance Directives met to discuss legislative and case law updates, and Senate Bill 48 was their first bill reviewed.  The Committee discussed that they did not anticipate this bill proceeding for the current legislative period, although no formal progress was posted to the Senate website after the bill’s introduction, as of February 26.  Guardianship reform bills have been presented nearly every one of the past five years, so if the Senate Bill 48 doesn’t progress for 2024, citizens can anticipate similar proposals to follow in upcoming sessions. Other recent guardianship reforms include the disclosure of criminal background checks of potential guardians and the creation of an Office of Public and Professional Guardians in 2016 to investigate complaints against guardians. 

Should you have concerns about wards or their appointed guardians under a Collier County Guardianship, you may contact the Clerk’s Office of Inspector General

Read the full March 2024 Newsletter here.