Florida probate law ensures that the deceased’s estate (or wealth) is properly distributed according to their will. In probate proceedings, portions of an estate are often left to someone unable to manage their inheritance.
These individuals, whether minors or incapacitated adults, must enter into probate guardianship to receive their inheritance.
What is Probate Guardianship?
Guardianship is the appointment of an individual who can manage someone’s inheritance while they are incapacitated or under the age of 18. Guardians are required by law to use and manage the inheritance in the clear, best interest of the inheritor.
Who Needs Guardianship?
A legal settlement or inheritance valued over $15,000 must be properly managed by an adult who is of a reasonably sound mind. That means that minors (children under the age of 18), mentally disabled people, or seniors lacking coherent judgment must have a court-appointed guardian. Any person required to have a guardian is known as a ward of the estate.
Who May be a Guardian?
Any guardian must be legally an adult and a resident of the state of Florida. Non-Florida residents are permitted to serve as guardians so long as they are a blood relative, child or parent by adoption, or a relative by marriage (including a spouse or in-law relative).
Lastly, guardians are not allowed to have any prior felony convictions if they reside outside of Florida. Florida residents guilty of a felony may become guardians, though most courts will not permit it.
What is the Guardian Obligated to do?
The guardian is entrusted to make sure that the ward is properly cared for. Especially for elderly or mentally disabled wards, the guardian should arrange for the ward to attend to all medical appointments. The guardian is required by law to submit an annual plan every year detailing how the ward’s care will be ensured.
Concerning the inheritance, guardians must be fully transparent with interested parties. The guardian may not make any major decisions regarding the estate without court approval.
Objecting to Guardianship
In most guardianship cases, the individuals involved are wise and seeking to best assist the ward. Most guardians are parents, spouses, or adult children caring for their family members in need. And yet, there are rare cases wherein someone feels the need to object to guardianship.
Someone who has been deemed by the court as needing a guardian can’t reject guardianship. However, other individuals may object to guardianship under the right circumstances.
The individual objecting to a guardian needs to be either a relative (such as next of kin) or someone else who stands to lose their rights (interested party) after a guardian is appointed. Typically, next of kin are more likely to file an objection because the person deemed in need of a guardian may not need a guardian at all.
Often, interested parties or relatives will object to the appointment of a guardian that they believe will not act in the ward’s best interest. In the most devious cases, someone objects to a guardian because they have proof of malicious intent by the guardian.
Anyone objecting to guardianship should work with an experienced probate attorney. There is a specific process to follow, both to the file the objection and to gather the proper evidence to prove a case.
How Does One Contest a Will Based On Guardianship?
Under normal circumstances, the will establishes who the guardian will be for certain recipients who meet the criteria above. Objecting to a guardian, in this case, is essentially contesting the will.
No objection or contest can be sustained without sound proof that the guardianship is illegitimate. The person or party contesting the will must be able to show that the assigned guardian is not fit to serve the best interests of the ward. Or, there must be sufficient evidence to prove that the ward is fully capable of managing their inheritance.
In cases related to undue influence, someone coerced, deceived, or otherwise manipulated the decedent to change the will for their benefit. This could be a caretaker that isolated their patients in order to take control of all financial and legal obligations.
There have been known cases where someone guilty of undue influence managed to make themselves a guardian to a ward. Anyone accusing an individual of undue influence must first demonstrate that the accused both abused or coerced the decedent and is a clear benefactor in what appears to be a will changed from the original version.
To prove undue influence, there must be an altered will showing unusual favoritism toward the accused, as well as witnesses to the accused’s mistreatment of the will’s owner. In most undue influence cases, the decedent was too physically or mentally weak to protect themselves against the person guilty of undue influence.
For more information about how a South Florida probate attorney can help you with your guardianship case, contact Balkan and Patterson at 561-750-9191 or visit our website.