On September 1, 2016, the Florida Supreme Court approved changes to the Probate Rules. The Probate Rules include both Probate and Guardianship. While there were multiple changes to throughout (many being minor), in this post I am going to focus on a major change to the Guardianship Accounting rules.
What is a Guardianship
In (very) brief, a Guardianship occurs when the Court appoints someone (a Guardian) to be responsible for the the person or property (or both) of another person (the Ward), due to the Ward’s partial or total incapacity. A Guardianship can be limited, with the Guardian having very few powers, or plenary, in which the Guardian has full authority over all of the Ward’s life decisions and assets.
Because so much responsibility is put in the Guardian’s hands, the Guardian is required to file certain annual reports. If the Guardian is appointed to manage the Ward’s assets, they are required to file an annual Accounting.
Changes to Guardianship Accounting Rules
A change in the most recent round of Probate Rules to the provisions regarding Annual Accountings are substantial. Before reviewing them, I’d like to first discuss questions that I never really thought too much about before.
What are the purpose of Guardianship Accountings? Who are they for?
If you asked me that last week, I would have responded that they were done for the Court, so the Court could ensure that the Guardian was properly doing their duty. On the Accounting, the Guardian has to show the Court that in essence, they’re not stealing the money and are spending it properly for the Ward’s benefit. I know that in Broward County, where I practice, there is a very dedicated Guardianship Audit department at the Courthouse, who go through each and every one of the thousands of Guardianship Accountings filed each year with a fine tooth comb. Some attorneys even think that they’re too strict, but they do a phenomenal job protect the Wards’ assets.
But is that the only purpose of the Accountings? Apparently not.
Under Rule 5.696(c), which is now entitled “Guardian Accounting” instead of “Annual Accounting,” Guardianship “accountings shall be stated in a manner that is understandable to persons who are not familiar with practices and terminology peculiar to the administration of guardianships.”
This is an interesting change that I guess I’ve never thought about before. The Accountings are not just for the Court, but for other interested parties too – including the Ward if they have capacity to understand the accounting, and the Ward’s family.
Why does this matter? According to the Commentary to Appendix B of the Rules, “any account should be capable of being understood by a person of average intelligence, literate in English, and familiar with basic financial terms who has read it with care and attention.” Seems to make sense.
I think that in the end, the forms on which the accountings are generated will change, and some terms will be used, but for at least this part of the rule change, it won’t be huge. But conceptually, it’s important to remember who the Accountings are prepared for – not just the Court, but for the Ward and their family too.