Perhaps you have recently learned that a loved one appointed you the guardian of his or her minor children in his or her will. Or, perhaps you are concerned about the safety, financial security, or general well being of a minor child and are interested in learning more about your options for seeking guardianship. Whatever the case may be, assuming the role of guardian for a minor child is both a privilege and a responsibility. And in order to make informed decisions and fulfill your obligations, it is important to have a clear understanding of what it means to be a “guardian” under Florida law.
10 Key Facts about Guardianship in Florida
1. What Is a Guardian?
Let’s start with the basics: What does it mean to be appointed the guardian of a minor child? As a guardian, you have both the legal right and the legal responsibility to make decisions on behalf of the child who is within your care. In legal terms, the child is a “ward” and the guardian’s role is to provide care and make important decisions in the ward’s best interests and on the ward’s behalf.
2. A Guardian Is Not a Parent.
Guardianship is different from adoption (very different, in fact). As a result, as a guardian, you are not considered the ward’s parent. Even if the child’s parents are deceased, the relationship remains one of guardian-ward, not parent-child.
This has a number of legal and practical implications. For one, establishing guardianship does not affect the ward’s inheritance rights, either from you or from his or her biological parents. Additionally, as a guardian, your ability to act on the child’s behalf is governed strictly by the terms of your guardianship order – the inherent rights of parenthood do not apply.
3. Guardians Can Be Held Legally Accountable.
As a guardian, you are legally responsible for serving in your appointed role. If you fail to take necessary action or if you make decisions that are not in your ward’s best interests, you can face legal action. Depending on the circumstances involved, this legal action can come from a concerned family member or from someone else acting on behalf of the ward.
4. Guardians Can Be Removed.
As a guardian, you are also subject to being removed if you fail to serve dutifully in your role. Under Florida law, grounds for removal of a guardian include (but are not limited to):
- Failure to perform mandatory guardianship duties
- Abuse of power
- Illness or substance abuse rendering the guardian incompetent to perform his or her duties
- Failure to comply with a court order
- Failure to produce the ward’s assets or return records or accounts of property sold when required
- Waste, embezzlement, or mismanagement of ward property
- Existence of a conflict of interest between the ward and the guardian
- Failure to file initial and annual guardianship reports as they become due
- Failure to complete guardianship education requirements
- A showing by a qualified person that removal is in the best interests of the ward
5. Guardians Cannot Quit.
Once you have been formally appointed the guardian of a minor child in Florida, you cannot simply quit. Regardless of the circumstances at hand, failing to meet your obligations can potentially have severe consequences for you and the ward. If you no longer wish to serve in your role as guardian, you will need to go through the formal process of having a successor guardian appointed before relinquishing your responsibilities.
6. Guardians Cannot Be “Fired” By Their Wards.
While a guardian can be removed through formal legal means, a guardian cannot simply be “fired” by a ward. If the minor child in your care no longer wishes for you make decisions on his or her behalf, all interested parties will need to address the situation in accordance with the relevant provisions of Florida law. Situations involving wards’ challenges to their guardians’ authority typically require delicate handling, and guardians must remain vigilant to avoid exposing themselves to potential legal liability.
7. A Guardian’s Authority Is Not Absolute.
While a guardian’s scope of authority and attendant responsibilities can be quite broad, no guardian’s authority is absolute. Wards retain a number of fundamental rights, including the right to seek legal representation, the right to necessary services, the right to be free from abuse, and the right to an education.
Additionally, in certain cases, parents (or the Florida courts) may choose to appoint two separate guardians for a single ward: (i) a guardian of the person, and (ii) a guardian of the property. A guardian of the person is responsible for making decisions regarding things like medical care, schooling, home life, and social activities, while a guardian of the property is responsible for managing the ward’s financial affairs.
8. Parents Will Often Leave Endowments to Their Chosen Guardians.
If you were named a guardian in a family member’s or friend’s will, the child’s parents may have left you a gift to cover necessary expenses related to your assumption of responsibility for the child’s care. You will want to make sure you have a clear understanding of the terms of the will (and any trusts or other estate planning documents). And if the parents left you an endowment, you will want to be sure to carefully manage these funds separately from any assets you will be managing on the child’s behalf.
9. Guardians Have the Right to Care for Themselves.
While guardians have a legal obligation to act in their ward’s best interests, they also have the right to care for themselves. While the ward’s needs may take precedence in appropriate circumstances, as a guardian, you do not have to give up everything you enjoyed prior stepping into the role. Serving as a guardian can be challenging, and guardians must practice appropriate self-care in order to adequately meet their own needs in addition to meeting the needs of the ward.
10. Legal Help Is Available.
Finally, as a guardian, you are likely to have questions from time to time. Due to the legal and real-life consequences of the decisions you make as a guardian, it is important to remember that you are not alone. Legal help is available. And as you become more familiar with your role as guardian, you will begin to gain confidence that you are doing what you need to in order to adequately protect yourself and your ward.
Speak with a Guardianship Lawyer in Jacksonville, FL
If you would like more information about the roles and responsibilities of guardians in Florida, we encourage you to contact us for an initial consultation. To speak with one of our experienced attorneys in confidence, please call our Jacksonville, FL, law offices at 904-288-4414 or request an appointment online today.