On June 6 representatives from the 12th Judicial Circuit will be appearing in front of the Manatee County Commission to request funding for a guardianship monitor to assist the court in monitoring the health, welfare and safety of Manatee County residents who are the subjects of guardianships and who are under the jurisdiction of the Guardianship Court of Manatee County.
A guardian is a surrogate decision-maker appointed by the court to make either personal and or financial decisions for a minor or for an adult with mental or physical disabilities. The subject of the guardianship is termed a “ward."The person legally charged with looking out for the ward is the “guardian." Guardianships, once established, can deprive the ward of the most basic rights. These would include the right to make financial decisions, medical decisions, and decisions about where to live and whom to socialize with, and even the right to vote.
A guardianship is commonly set up for those who as they become older cannot manage their personal finances or physically become unable to take care of themselves independently. Sometimes guardianships are set up because the ward suffers from a physical disability or as a result of an accident or injury. More and more guardianships are being set up to assist those who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The majority of Manatee County cases consists of elderly wards who no longer are able to independently take care of themselves and are totally dependent on their guardian to make certain they are receiving the care they need to have a satisfactory quality of life. Currently there are over 467 active guardianship cases in Manatee County.
The court normally relies on the guardian to make certain the ward is safe and well cared for. Professional guardians, for the most part, do an excellent job taking care of the ward and reporting to the court. However the majority of guardians are relatives, many who live out of town, friends, caretakers, neighbors of the ward, or someone the assisted living or other facility has asked to look after the ward.
We have all heard the horror stories regarding physical and financial exploitation of wards by their guardians and caretakers. All too often the courts find out about these abuses after the fact.
In Sarasota, the Sarasota County Commission approved a Guardianship Monitor who acts as the eyes and ears of the court. The guardianship monitor has assisted the guardianship court in Sarasota in following up on abuse and neglect incidents that would not normally have come to the court's attention. The guardianship monitor has also been instrumental in helping to restore the rights of wards who no longer meet the criteria for having their fundamental rights taken away from them. Often the guardianship monitor will act independently, based upon a letter or phone call and can bring issues to the court’s attention immediately.
Most importantly, the guardianship monitor will make site visits to the ward on a regular basis to make certain the ward is safe and secure. Currently there is no mechanism in Manatee County to do this.
We feel that for the citizens of Manatee County to be assured that some of the most vulnerable of their fellow citizens are receiving all the protection and services we can give them, the funding of a guardianship monitor be given serious consideration by the Manatee County Commission.
Charles E. Williams is chief judge of the 12th Judicial District, which is comprised of Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties.