Under Florida law, there are several different kinds of Guardian that can be appointed by a court. Section 744.102 (9), Fla. Stat. defines a “Guardian” as a person who has been appointed by the court to act on behalf of a Ward’s person or property, or both. As the definition says, there are at least three types of Guardian appointment—for the person, for the property, or both. The main difference among these types of Guardian are the extent of authority that they are given.
When a Guardian of the person is appointed, the Guardian is given the power and authority to make decisions and act with regard to the Ward’s personal life. This would include matters such as day-to-day living arrangements, health care, education, travel, and other matters related to the ward’s comfort and well-being. However, the Guardian of the person typically has no authority over the Ward’s assets or property.
When a Guardian of the property is appointed, the Guardian is given the power and authority to control and oversee the Ward’s property and assets. This type of Guardian oversees the Ward’s bank accounts and other financial resources. Such a Guardian often is the one who pays the Ward’s bills. However, the Guardian of the property has no authority over the Ward’s personal life such as where the Ward lives or over medical matters.
In contrast to the limitations of the Guardian of the person and the Guardian of the property, a “Plenary Guardian” means a full Guardian. This is a person who has been appointed by the court to exercise all delegable legal rights and powers of the Ward after the court has found that the Ward lacks the capacity to perform all of the tasks necessary to care for his or her person and property. This type of Guardian is often appointed for an elderly or disabled person who cannot manage any of their personal and financial affairs.
In determining whether to appoint a Guardian of the person, a Guardian of the property, or a Plenary Guardian, the court is required to use the least restrictive means to provide for the Ward. This means that if one type of Guardian can be appointed without having to take away all of the Ward’s rights, then the court should use that method. If the Ward needs help with medical and health issues but not with financial matters, then a Guardian of the Person would suffice.
An example might help. Take John, Robert, and Jim—all in their eighties and with varying health and cognitive limitations. John is able to pay his bills and manage his checking account. However, he often gets confused when managing his medicines and following physician instructions. Robert on the other hand, manages his health matters quite well. He can manage his prescriptions and readily follows his doctor’s orders. However, Robert is easily confused when it comes to his bank account and paying bills. He has missed a number of important payments and he has bounced a number of checks. Then there is Jim who cannot manage his personal or his financial matters. He’s often missed taking his medications and he has essentially made a mess of his checking account. He even gave a neighborhood teenager $500 under the mistaken belief that the kid was his grandson.
In the above example, John would be a candidate for a Guardian of the person. He could benefit by having someone make sure he gets his medicines and follows his doctor’s instructions. Robert could benefit from having a Guardian of the property. He needs someone to help him stay on top of paying bills, etc. Then there’s Jim who needs someone to oversee everything, personal and financial. Jim is a good candidate for appointment of a Plenary Guardian.