Florida Inheritance and Guardianship Litigation: Can a Guardian pay ward’s debt after ward’s death, despite objection by a beneficiary?
What is a Florida guardianship? What is ward? What happens when a ward dies in Florida? Is the Florida guardian able to pay the ward’s debt? Does the guardian have to provide notice of proceedings regarding payment of ward’s debt to the beneficiaries of the ward’s estate? Why would the beneficiary of a Florida estate sue the decedent’s guardian?
Adult Guardianships in Florida
At Pankauski Hauser Lazarus, we handle many guardianship cases throughout Florida. When we refer to “guardianships”, we are talking about guardianships over adults, not minors. Commonly, children of the elderly file a guardianship to protect their mom or dad who is suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, certain disabled or injured adults may benefit from a guardianship if they are incompetent and unable to take care of themselves.
West Palm Beach guardianship courts take guardianship proceedings very seriously because these proceedings can result in a ward’s rights being taken away. The “ward” is the person subject to the guardianship who has been determined to be incompetent or incapacitated. It is important to remember that, even if somebody is deemed incapacitated by a probate court judge in Florida, the court may not appoint a guardian if there’s a lesser restrictive alternative that adequately addresses the incapacitated person’s needs. For example, a power of attorney and a revocable trust may prove to be sufficient.
In Florida, guardianship law is governed by Chapter 744 of the Florida Statutes. If you are involved in guardianship litigation in West Palm Beach, or anywhere in Florida, you should refer to this chapter. You should also consider interviewing an experienced guardianship litigation lawyer who can answer your questions and properly file petitions on your behalf.
Lovest v. Mangiero
A recent Third DCA opinion, Lovest v. Mangiero, is a good example of Florida litigation that involves both guardianship and inheritance issues. Here, Pervis Young, the decedent, had a guardian of the property appointed prior to his death. The guardian, David Mangiero, became the successor personal representative of Young’s Florida estate after Young passed away. On two separate occasions, Mangiero filed petitions to pay Young’s debt with Young’s artwork. A beneficiary of Young’s estate, Taketha Lovest, objected.
Mangiero sent notice of the second petition and hearing via certified mail to Lovest, but it was marked undeliverable. The guardianship court went ahead and authorized the petition. Lovest appealed. She argued that the orders violated her due process rights, the guardianship court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, and that Mangiero, as guardian, should have provided proper accountings each year.
However, the appellate court explains that Lovest’s due process rights were not violated because she did not file a request for notice form pursuant to Florida Probate Rule 5.060. Therefore, the guardianship court was not able to determine if she was an interested person.
Secondly, Florida Statute 744.527(2) states that, when a guardian applies for discharge, the guardian may retain from the funds in his or her possession a sufficient amount to pay final costs of administration. Therefore, the Florida guardianship court retained jurisdiction while Mangiero took care of the outstanding guardian and attorneys fees.
Lastly, although the guardianship court should have ordered Mangiero to provide yearly accountings, they never did. Therefore, that issue was moot.
If you are the beneficiary of an estate, and you are also stuck dealing with guardianship issues, you may want to read Lovest v. Mangiero in its entirety. If you want to interview an experienced Florida probate lawyer, free of charge, call (561)514-0900 ext. 101.