Florida State Guardianship Association’s Guardianship Spotlight: Heather C. Kirson, B.C.S.
How I Became Involved in Guardianship
I began my career as an associate geriatric care manager and met an elder law attorney that helped one of our clients with a Medicaid issue. The attorney’s strategy protected the spouse completely so that her husband, who she wasn’t able to care for anymore, could be safe in his nursing home and ensure she had sufficient funds to take care of herself. That was my first opportunity to see how elder law attorneys could transform the outcome for elders in a positive way. I knew then that I wanted to become one and asked that attorney to become my mentor.
That experience and my background in care management is what inspired me to go to law school at age 32. It wasn’t something that was previously on my radar. Now our law firm has 93 guardianship cases.
Family Member vs. Family Member
A particularly sad guardianship case we took on was that of a 20 year old severely mentally disabled person. Members of the entire family were living off of him. The guardian, who was a family member, had misappropriated about one million dollars of the ward’s assets. Also, the family guardian was not filing the proper reports to the court on time, so the theft was difficult to catch.
That wasn’t all. The family guardian was hiring other family members to do work that didn’t exist, and getting paid by the guardian. The court then appointed a professional guardian and, through their representation, we were able to recover the bulk of those assets which included property that had been bought in another family member’s name with the ward’s assets. This helped protect the ward’s assets for the rest of his life, which he needed for his own care.
What is a good tip for those selecting a guardian?
Before you are ever faced with the possibility of guardianship, get your advance directive documents in place. Do this even if you think nothing will happen to you. Everyone 18 or older needs a durable power of attorney and a healthcare surrogate. It can help you avoid a guardianship in the first place, because someone will have the authority to make financial and medical decisions for you if you cannot. In addition, a Declaration Naming PreNeed Guardian may be completed allowing you to have a say in who your guardian will be, if you ever need one.