Attorneys in Florida are often asked about legal guardianship, why it is used and what the requirements are. As the name implies, a guardianship is a proceeding for the protection of those who cannot protect themselves.

When someone is unable to fully care for him or herself, a court can appoint someone to act in the place of the disabled individual. The person appointed by the court for this task is called a guardian. The person protected, often a minor, is the ward. Depending on the situation, the guardian may play several roles.

For example, if a minor receives income or property, whether through an inheritance, gift or otherwise, a guardian may be appointed to manage the funds. Likewise, a guardian may be appointed for a person suffering a disability. Those appointed to handle finances in these cases are also referred to as conservators.

The guardian will be given the authority to accept funds on behalf of the ward, pay expenses, manage accounts and invest the property. In other situations, a person may be physically or mentally disabled and require assistance with everyday living. A guardian may be appointed to secure living arrangements, medical treatment and therapy for the ward.

A guardianship is a court proceeding. A petition may be filed by a family member or other person with a concern for the individual. The court must first determine if the person is in need of care and if so, who is to be the guardian. Guardians are under court supervision and often must file periodic reports to the court. In recent times, powers of attorney, living trusts and other estate planning tools are used as guardianship substitutes. An estate planning attorney can advise as to whether these tools are available in a given situation.