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Guardianships and Conservatorships

Legal Representation in Ocala for Your Estate Planning Needs

If a family member in Florida becomes incapacitated because of a mental illness, an age-related illness, or an injury, you may be able to petition the court for a guardianship. The guardian becomes vested with certain legal powers with regard to the family member, who is known as the ward. Similarly, if a loved one disappears under circumstances that make it seem like he or she has died, such as by going missing in action during army service, you may be able to petition the court for a conservatorship. The family member who disappears is known as an "absentee" in a conservatorship. An estate planning attorney at the Dean Law Firm can help residents of Ocala and other communities across Florida pursue a guardianship or conservatorship.

The Functions of Guardianships and Conservatorships

Legal guardianships are governed by Chapter 744 of the Florida Statutes. A legal guardian takes over significant responsibilities in order to care for his or her ward. The guardian also gets legal authority over certain aspects of the ward's life. A guardianship can help ensure that someone with a severe illness gets the medical treatment he or she needs and also allow the guardian to oversee the ward's personal finances. For example, if an elderly person suffers from severe bipolar disorder and tends to spend substantial sums of money or rack up credit card debt when manic, he or she may need a guardian to safeguard his or her savings and make sure that he or she receives care during those periods.

If you petition for guardianship, you will need to prove to the court that your family member is incapacitated and not able to handle his or her personal or financial matters. The court will then appoint a committee of experts to examine the family member to determine whether he or she is in fact unable to manage those affairs alone.

The committee is usually two physicians and another person whose skills allow him or her to form an expert opinion about the type of incapacity alleged. There will be a physical exam, a mental health exam, and a functional assessment of the allegedly incapacitated person. An attorney may be appointed for the incapacitated person to make sure that person's rights are protected through the hearing and to advocate on his or her behalf in case he or she objects to some aspect of the guardianship. In general, Florida courts will use the least restrictive method to protect someone who is incapable of caring for him or herself or his or her finances, and a guardianship need not be permanent.

A guardian usually has broader rights and responsibilities than a conservator because the conservator is appointed when a person is believed to have disappeared or gone missing, and therefore the conservator looks after the estate, not the absentee's health or personal actions. Those who petition to become a conservator must show the court that they would hold an interest in the estate of the absentee if the absentee is deceased, or that they depend on the person who has disappeared for financial support.

The petition for conservatorship will also have to name the absentee's other next of kin, summarize the property that is in the absentee's estate, describe the circumstances under which the absentee has gone missing, and explain why you should be named the conservator of that person's estate. In some cases, the court appoints a guardian ad litem to represent the absentee's interests during the hearing for a conservatorship.

Consult an Experienced Ocala Attorney to Discuss a Probate Matter

At the Dean Law Firm, our probate lawyers understand how difficult it can be for individuals in Ocala and beyond to help a family member who has become incapacitated or has gone missing. We can help you seek a guardianship or conservatorship in Crystal River or The Villages, or other communities in Marion, Sumter, Lake, Citrus, or Levy Counties and across the state of Florida. Call us at 352-387-8700, or contact us via our online form.