One of the most important services provided by the Osceola Council on Aging is our Public Guardianship Program. It is for individuals deemed to be incapacitated by the court with no family or friends willing and/or able to be appointed as their guardian. This program includes seniors, disabled adults, and individuals with intellectual disabilities, ages 18 and up.
According to the National Guardianship Association, the focus of guardianship, per say, is a process to protect people from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Guardianship is a legal process put in place when individuals, due to disability or incapacity, cannot make safe or sound decisions for themselves and/or oversee their financial affairs or assets.
There are between 30,000-40,000 open guardianship cases in Florida at any given time, with nearly 30 professional guardians registered in Osceola County. For perspective, Osceola County has, on average, 175 to 200 open cases. Out of 16 Public Guardianship offices statewide, the OCOA has served as the state’s Office of Public Guardianship for Osceola since 1998; presently, the OCOA serves 38 individuals through our Public Guardianship program.
Persons for whom a guardian is appointed are referred to as “wards” of the state. Guardians are required to utilize substituted judgement for wards; this process is invoked as a guide for decision making when an individual lacks that capacity and no advance directive in place. In cases where substituted judgement is not appropriate, guardians are to act in the best interest of the ward.
Additionally, there are diverse types of guardianships. Plenary Guardianship is where the court delegates the guardian to exercise all rights and powers over the ward. This could be for rights over the person, property or both. Then there’s Limited Guardianships, where the court delegates certain rights and powers to the guardian to act on behalf of the ward. In these cases, the ward continues to retain a certain number of rights. This type of guardianship can also be appointed for just the person or the person and the property.
The OCOA Public Guardianship Program has served hundreds of wards throughout the years. The services can include visits to their home or residential facility, transportation to medical appointments, consenting to medical treatment, and making decisions regarding health such as surgeries and end of life decisions. Additional responsibilities can include maintaining safe and appropriate housing, protecting them from abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
“Guardianship should be considered a method of last resort,” said Cristina Rabago, director of the OCOA Public Guardianship program. “Establishing a guardianship will legally remove important rights of a person.
“We had a guardianship client who recently passed away. We served as her guardian for 22 years. We have another client who is now 58, and after 23 years of caring for him, he continues to thrive and be an active member of the community. We become their family. We take their well-being, happiness, and security seriously as we would with any member of our family.”
If you know a person who may need guardianship services, contact the Public Guardianship Office at osceolagenerations.org/services/guardianship/. To qualify, the person must be a current resident of Osceola County, meet indigent status, have a requirement that a guardianship can resolve and have no family members, friends or a qualified adult who is willing to serve a guardianship role. Every referral will be evaluated for eligibility.
For more information, go to the National Guardianship Association website at www.guardianship.org or the Florida State Guardianship Association at www.floridaguardians.com. You can also call the Office of Public & Professional Guardianship at 850-414-2381.