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NetFlix I Care a Lot & Florida Guardianships

In the News • Mar 1, 2021
post about NetFlix I Care a Lot & Florida Guardianships

In Florida, guardianship business is booming — for good or for ill. Every week, perhaps every day, family members are asking a Florida Probate Court to declare an adult “incapacitated” or “incompetent“, remove or limit their rights and powers to act alone, and appoint a Guardian. Many times, a guardianship means that you limit access to one’s money !! We have written about “contested” Florida guardianships before, where family members duel over controlling a parent or their purse. Now, Netflix has a popular and new 2021 comedy, crime thriller called “I Care a Lot.” Will this popular streaming movie shed light on financial exploitation and financial abuse? Although it’s fiction, I Care a Lot is getting a lot of attention from people involved in Florida guardianships.

Florida Probate Courts hear from family members involving adult guardianships where they discuss mom and dad’s money– and the use and mis-use of it. Florida law provides civil and criminal penalties for those that steal money from vulnerable adults.

I Care a Lot + Guardianships

Florida guardianship law is found in Florida Statutes Chapter 744. This explains the entire Florida guardianship process. How do you start a guardianship? (file a petition). What if there is a Power of Attorney (consider lesser restrictive alternatives to a guardianship). “There’s actually two cases you need to start a Florida guardianship” says guardianship litigator John Pankauski.You file a mental health case which suggests that a Florida resident is not competent and needs some protection and assistance” says Pankauski. “Then, who is going to provide that protection and assistance? You need a guardianship matter.” Pankauski should know. He leads a boutique law firm in Palm Beach which restricts its practice to so-called “probate litigation” which typically means high dollar, intense family fights over wills, trusts, estates & guardianships. Pankauski also points out that, in addition to specific guardianship laws, family members may also want to read the specific guardianship rules under the Probate Rules. Here is the New York Times review of I Care A Lot. Here is another review of I Care a Lot.

The Netflix movie I Care A Lot has caused family members and Florida guardianship attorneys to re-focus on guardianship cases and financial abuse and money.

Florida Financial Exploitation + Power of Attorney?

But guardianships often involve a lot more than simply taking the car keys away from dad, or getting someone to make health care decisions for mom. “Sadly, sometimes the reason you end up in guardianship court is because family members may be stealing” says Pankauski. Sometimes, you just don’t know, or family members who feel left out in the cold want answers. “Or, to be more ‘polite’ ” continues Pankauski “there is a disagreement over the use and access of a parent’s money.” Florida has laws which are intended to protect family members + senior citizens and vulnerable adults. They include Florida Statute 832, which are laws about the abuse or neglect of elderly persons. And, Pankauski points out, many State Attorneys’ offices and County Sheriff Departments have units and professional law enforcement personnel dedicated to financial abuse and exploitation. But, Pankauski warns, if you are a family member seeking to file a civil lawsuit, be wary of some “elder law” lawyers who just want to settle every case and who don’t handle trials. “Handling a guardianship trial is a lot different than simply filing papers ” says Pankauski. “You need evidence, testimony, and you need to know how to use the facts and Florida guardianship law to meet your burden.” He points to the Florida Evidence Code found in Chapter 90, and the Fernandez case in Miami. In the Fernandez case, a Miami-Date probate judge was reversed on appeal for prohibiting one from putting on evidence in a guardianship trial. And, if your guardianship financial exploitation case involves a Power of Attorney, Pankauski suggests that you read and understand Florida’s “new” Power of Attorney Law. Pankauski has a power of attorney trial set for the third quarter in Broward County, 2021.