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Scott Signs Bill Aimed At Unscrupulous Guardians

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Thomas Bender
The Florida Channel
Marie Winkelman was one of the people profiled in a Sarasota Herald-Tribune series highlighting flaws in Florida's elder guardianship law.

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday signed a bill aimed at better protecting elderly Floridians from unscrupulous guardians.

The measure (SB 232), filed by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, calls for the Department of Elder Affairs to certify and oversee professional guardians.

Under the bill, the Statewide Public Guardianship Office at the Florida Department of Elder Affairs will expand to become the Office of Public and Professional Guardians. It will establish standards for public and private guardians, receive and investigate complaints and penalize guardians who breach the standards.

Detert has often cited a December 2014 series by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, which found that while Florida has an efficient system of identifying and caring for fragile elders, "tapping their assets is a growth business."

In 2003, there were 23 registered professional guardians on Florida. By 2014, the number had grown to more than 440.

Detert said private guardians can sell off wards' assets to pay themselves -- even to fight the wards' grown children in court. Private professional guardians often serve wealthy people, while public guardians serve incapacitated people who don't have anybody willing and able to serve as guardians. The state has had a more heavily regulated system of oversight for public guardians.

Detert and House sponsor Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, said the bill would propel Florida into a leadership role nationwide in protecting seniors from guardian abuse.