From the Desk of Stacy M. Butterfield

Aug 17

[ARCHIVED] Guardianship 101

The original item was published from August 17, 2021 4:20 PM to February 15, 2022 1:02 PM

From attention-grabbing headlines to high-profile celebrity cases, guardianship cases are a hot topic these days. You might be wondering “what is a guardianship case?”

In Polk County, the Clerk’s office plays an important role in guardianship cases – from handling the court filings to protecting the assets and wellbeing of wards in guardianship arrangements.

Whether you’re following the #FreeBritney movement or simply want to learn more about this hot topic, we’re here to give you a crash course on Guardianship 101


So, what is a guardianship, exactly?

A guardianship is a legal arrangement under which a person (the guardian) has the legal right and duty to care for another (the ward) and his or her property. A guardian of the person makes decisions and takes action regarding the personal care of the ward. A guardian of the property manages the property and assets of the ward. A guardian must be represented by an attorney.

What kind of responsibilities come with being a guardian?

A guardian’s legal responsibility is to act in the best interest of their ward. Guardians can only act within the guidelines given by the court. That means that guardians can only act under the rights removed from the ward and appointed to them by the court. Guardians must file a care plan for their ward within 60 days of being appointed and provide information to the court about the health and physical wellbeing of the ward each year.

When is a guardian needed?

A guardianship is established when a person is unable to legally act on his/her own behalf. This may be due to the ward being a minor under the legal age of adulthood or due to mental and/or physical incapacity. 

Who can be a guardian?

A person 18 years of age or older who has an interest in the protection of the personal or property rights of the ward -may qualify to serve as a court-appointed guardian. After a person submits a guardianship application the court will review it to make sure the guardian will act in the ward’s best interest.

How can I become a guardian?

The most important step is to first contact an attorney that handles guardianship cases. The Clerk’s office cannot give legal advice, resources for guardians are available from Florida’s 10th Judicial Circuit, the Office of Public and Professional Guardians, and Polk Elder Care.

Being a guardian is a big responsibility, so background checks and fingerprinting is required prior to a guardianship appointment. The Polk County Sheriff’s office handles fingerprinting and background checks for individuals being considered for a guardianship appointment.

What role does the Clerk play in guardianship cases?

Protecting wards from fraud, waste, and abuse is one of our office’s key strategic goals. The Clerk’s office makes sure that a ward’s assets are inventoried and annually audited. These annual audits make sure that a guardian is not fraudulently using a ward’s funds.

Inspector General

The Department of Inspector General conducts independent, comprehensive audits, and investigations. This includes auditing guardianship reports filed with Florida's 10th Judicial Circuit. The Inspector General also has a hotline for residents to report suspected cases of fraud, waste, or abuse of a ward’s resources by a guardian.

Guardianship Improvement Task Force

Our office is dedicated to protecting wards not just in Polk County but state-wide. That’s why we work closely with the Guardianship Improvement Task Force, formed with the mission of studying the current status of Guardianships in Florida in order to make recommendations to improve the protection of wards throughout the state. Our office advises the taskforce on the importance of following the guardianship audit best practices developed by Clerks state-wide. By working with the Task Force, Clerk Butterfield is helping strengthen protection for wards throughout the state.

Resources and Information

For more resources and information on guardianships visit the guardianship page located under our court services menu. To report suspected cases of fraud, waste, and abuse to the Inspector General, call the fraud hotline at 863-534-7776.