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Gov. Rick Scott signs bill to protect seniors who require professional guardians

Scott signs 24 other bills Thursday

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Rick Scott signed 25 new bills into law Thursday. One sponsored by Senator Nancy Detert provides regulatory authority over professional guardians appointed by the courts to oversee the lives of incapacitated senior citizens.

Local 10 News recently reported a story about a Century Village man who felt his father's guardian was not acting in his best interest.   

James Vassallo's father Albert was declared incapacitated by a Palm Beach County court.  That's when professional guardian, Elizabeth Savitt, stepped in to manage the assets of Albert Vassallo after the court cited family discord.

James Vassallo has appealed the court's ruling removing him as  trustee of his father's estate. 

"The bill is another step forward in our ongoing struggle to expose this horrific racket and bring stakeholders to justice," South Florida activist Dr. Sam Sugar said.

Sugar's group, Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, represents thousands nationwide who say their loved ones are in abusive guardianships. 

The new law creates an Office of Public and Professional Guardianship and requires the office to standardize practices and create rules for professional guardians. It also gives enforcement power to include revocation of a guardian's registration.

"This may going forward bring some degree of protection to prospective wards. It may make it harder to abuse the next ward. But for those of us who have suffered from this abusive racket, there is no hope that we will ever be made whole emotionally, physical or financially," Sugar said.

Scott signed a bill last year that imposed criminal penalties for guardians exploiting or abusing seniors in guardianship cases. 

Local 10 News reported that James Vassallo questioned the billing invoices from his father's guardian and her attorneys. Vassallo also questioned how his father's money was being spent to care for him.

"I think it's great that Gov. Scott signed the bill. The next bill they should cap the amount that a lawyer and guardian can charge a ward," Vassallo said.

In response to Local 10 News' report, Palm Beach County Chief Judge Jeffrey Colbath instituted changes addressing concerns of how professional guardians are selected.  Included in the changers are the following:

  • In-house training for probate Judges and court staff;
  • The establishment of a Guardianship Wheel which will provide for random assignment of professional guardians to cases;
  • Standardization of bill practices for Guardians and Attorneys; and
  • Recusal of the current South County Judges from Ms. Savitt's cases.

"Not a day goes by where I don't get a phone call from a family member desperately to find help for the crisis they are in with their loved one," Sugar said.