Interested Persons in Guardianship and Financial Matters

Posted on December 5, 2014

Last week in a case involving the term of art, “interested persons,” the Fourth District Court of Appeal (4th DCA) in Rudolph v. Rosecan, 2014 WL 6674749 (Fla. 4th DCA 2014) agreed with the trial court and determined that a ward’s mother had no status as an “interested person” for purposes of annual accounting or other guardianship financial matters that had been established for which the mother was not the guardian.  The 4th DCA agreed with the guardian and father in that next of kin are not entitled to inspect or review annual accountings unless they are “interested persons,” and further held that her rights under a shared parenting plan does not give her standing to challenge such an order.

The father of a twenty-two year old autistic man was appointed plenary guardian of his son’s person and property.  The shared parenting plan between the son’s mother provided that they were to have shared parental responsibility with decision making authority, and required them to confer and attempt to agree on major decisions affecting their son’s life.  If a disagreement surfaced, the father had ultimate authority related to education, residence, and healthcare.  Unfortunately, the parenting plan did not address decision-making authority regarding financial decisions.

After the guardian voluntarily provided the mother with annual accounting and financial information regarding the actual guardianship for years, the guardian moved for an order to declare the mother was not an “interested person” for the purposes of such accounting and other financial matters.  The order asserted that the mother consistently served frivolous objections to accounting and sought the father’s personal financial or estate planning information pertaining to trusts he had established for his son.  Furthermore, the father stated that Florida’s guardianship statutes do not make the mother an “interested person” because she had no financial rights or obligations with regard to her son; and therefore would not be affected by the guardianship proceedings.  The mother argued that because the shared parenting plan gave her power to make major decisions in her son’s life, and because she was next of kin, she was an interested person with standing.

The 4th DCA started out their reasoning with a discussion of Florida law.  Under section 744.367 (2013), a guardian has a statutory duty to file an annual guardianship report, which must contain annual accountings of the ward’s property and plan.  Inspection of such reports, unless otherwise ordered, can only be done by the court, the clerk, the guardian and the guardian’s attorney, the ward, unless he or she is a minor or has been determined to be totally incapacitated, and the ward’s attorney.

The code further requires that in order to object to such report, the person must be what is called an “interested person.”  See Fla. Stat. § 744.367(4) (2013).  The term is further defined as “any person who may reasonably be expected to be affected by the outcome of the particular proceeding involved.” Fla. Stat. 731.201(23).  In addition, prior case law indicates that heirs to a ward’s estate do not have standing to participate in a proceeding regarding the guardian’s fees.  The fact that the heirs may have received a courtesy copy of some prior petitions were insufficient to confer standing for the purpose of participating in a proceeding concerning guardianship fees.  Also under Florida statute, only the guardian has the power and standing to file a petition for a change in residence.  Consequently, a person’s status as an “interested person” with standing is dependent upon whether the person would be affected by the outcome of the proceedings.  Simply being next of kin does not qualify.

Here, the 4th DCA held that because the parenting plan does not give the mother any right to, or interest in the financial decisions made for her son, she is not an “interested person” with standing as it relates to annual accountings and other financial matters affecting her son.

If you or anyone you know is in need of representation in actions involving Guardianship, Probate and/or Trust Disputes, or questions pertaining to such proceedings, please contact The Law Offices of Glenn M. Mednick, P.L., at (954) 315-1154 or gmednick@mednicklawgroup.com.

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