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Florida Guardianship Jurisdiction Act clears the Senate Judiciary Committee

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Sen. Danny Burgess

Sen. Danny Burgess

The Senate Judiciary Committee moved a bill January 24 to bring Florida in line with 46 other states when it comes to resolving guardianship jurisdictional disputes.

SB 1032 by Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, would create the “Florida Guardianship Jurisdiction Act,” which is based on the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act developed by the Uniform Law Commission. It passed 9-0 over the objections of the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section. The Elder Law Section supports the measure.

Burgess said the bill does nothing to impact Florida’s current “robust guardianship laws” and only comes into effect when disputes arise over jurisdiction involving other states.

“The focus of this bill, like the model act, is limited to resolving guardianship issues that occur when multiple state jurisdictions are involved, when complexities arise because a guardianship is transferred from one state to another, and when guardianships or orders in one state are sought to be recognized in another state,” according to the staff analysis, adding the bill establishes criteria for courts to use in determining which state’s courts are the most appropriate forum to assert jurisdiction over and resolve a guardianship issue.

In opposing the bill, Elizabeth Hughes, representing the Real Property Probate and Trust Law Section, said the measure would greatly reduce Florida courts’ jurisdiction over guardianship proceedings.

Currently, she said, Florida retains jurisdiction over anyone who resides in or is found in Florida for the purpose of guardianship and incapacity proceedings.

“Particularly of importance is the special jurisdiction section of the act, which requires the Florida court to dismiss an emergency guardianship proceeding at the request of the home state of an individual,” Hughes said. “This is the foreign court determining that a Florida court is not an appropriate forum and would require dismissal on this point. Given that emergency guardianships are sought in Florida when there is an allegation of imminent harm or danger to the safety of the person, this would create a dangerous situation for the ward.”

Hughes said adopting the act would also spur more litigation to determine the effected individual’s home state and delay the appointment of emergency temporary guardians.

However, Victoria Heuler, representing the Elder Law Section, said adopting the measure would provide a uniform set of rules so the states can more effectively communicate and would make it easier to protect and repatriate vulnerable Floridians who are at times removed from the state by disgruntled family members.

Burgess said the bottom line is 46 other states have these laws in place and they work.

“It will give us greater standing when working with other states that have this uniform act,” Burgess said. “It will not dilute our guardianship laws, instead it helps clear up some unnecessary and, in some cases, heartbreaking legal wrangling and very emotionally and contentious issues.”

The measure has also been referred to the Children, Families and Elder Affairs and Rules committees.

A similar bill, HB 845 by Rep. Traci Koster, R-Safety Harbor, has not been heard in the House.


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