Submitted by Michelle Steffano, Director of Marketing, One Senior Place

Below is a transcript of my conversation with H. Leonard (Lennie) Burke, a Professional Guardian. Lennie is also a Family Mediator with Harmony Mediation and a Resident Business of One Senior Place.

Lennie BMichelle: Lennie, I have worked with several Professional Guardians, so I have some idea of what you do, but I’m not sure I understand the whole story. Why is guardianship necessary in the first place?

Lennie: Sometimes an individual won’t be able to make decisions for him or herself. This could be as a result of Alzheimer’s or other dementia, a stroke, injury or some other mental deficiency. In that tragic circumstance, someone else will have to make important decisions for them. So, the Circuit Court can be asked to appoint a guardian to take over that responsibility so that their health is protected and their property is not wasted or stolen.

Michelle: Shouldn’t this be the role of a family member?

Lennie: Generally, yes. The law specifies a preference for a family member to act in this critical role. Sometimes there is no family member available, willing or qualified. In that case the Court might have to seek the assistance of a Professional Guardian.

Michelle: So, you’re only appointed when there is no family member to be appointed?

Lennie: There are other situations. One is a dispute within a family. In that case, a judge may appoint a Professional Guardian because they are neutral. I’ve been appointed in this situation several times.

Michelle: So, let’s say you are appointed. What kinds of decisions are you empowered to make?

Lennie: The powers can be divided into two categories – guardian of the person and guardian of the property. Guardian of the person might include medical decision making, determining social environment and residential placement. Guardian of the property might include managing funds, receiving benefits, protecting personal and real property and paying bills.

Michelle: You said “might”. Can you explain that word choice?

Lennie: When the judge determines that an individual is incapacitated, the judge will remove certain rights from that person based on that individual’s capacity. The judge will also determine specifically which rights and duties will be assigned to the guardian,.

Michelle: Are Professional Guardians licensed?

Lennie: No, not exactly. We are technically not “licensed”. We are required to be registered with the Department of Elder Affairs. In order to be registered, we have to complete a training course, pass a competency exam, obtain a bond, and pass both criminal background and credit checks. We also have to obtain regular continuing education and renew our registration every year. So, it’s very similar to licensing.

Michelle: Is there any review of the actions of a Professional Guardian and are there any professional standards.

Lennie: The guardian serves at the discretion of the Court and all actions are subject to Court review. A guardian of the person must submit an annual plan to the Court. That plan documents care during the previous year and forecasts what care will be provided during the coming year. A guardian of the property must submit an annual accounting of all assets and transactions for audit by the Court.

The State of Florida does not impose an ethical standard or standards of practice on guardians. Some Professional Guardians enjoy national certification (by the Center for Guardianship Certification) which obligates them to follow an ethical standard subject to discipline. Both the National Guardianship Association and the Florida State Guardianship Association have published standards of practice which are advisory.

Michelle: Do you have any final comments?

Lennie: Guardianship is not something anybody wants. It should be regarded as a last resort. It can be expensive and intrusive. I liken it to a heart bypass operation. Nobody looks forward to having their heart cut open. Sometimes it is necessary for the patient. Guardianship is similar in that it may be the necessary step to protect someone from danger. Lastly, guardianship doesn’t have to be forever. We are required to review on an annual basis whether rights could be restored and the person under guardianship always has the power to petition for restoration of their rights.

Michelle: You mentioned a moment ago disputes within families and we have talked about that before. Can we talk in the future about your efforts to help families in conflict?

Lennie: Absolutely. I look forward to that.

###

H. Leonard (Lennie) Burke has served as a professional, court-appointed guardian for over 11 years. A guardian will be appointed when someone can no longer make decisions for themselves. It is usually preferably to have a family member in that role. Sometimes no family member is available or appropriate. That might require a professional guardian. A professional guardian might also be appointed in a case where family conflict is severe. He is registered with the State of Florida for this role and nationally certified.

Lennie observed that family conflict was expensive and destructive. He chose to do something about it and became trained to assist families with making the difficult decisions required when a loved one becomes disabled or incapacitated. He is trained in guardianship mediation and certified by the Supreme Court of Florida for Family Mediation.

As a consequence of his mediation training and certification, Lennie also assists couples who have determined that they want to dissolve their marriage and that they can do so without a major conflict. Even if they are willing to pursue this approach, they need help with some of the decisions and the forms that must be prepared. Family mediators like Lennie provide this service.

Individuals seeking to resolve any kind of conflict may choose how they are going to do that. One option is to base decision on Biblical scripture. Lennie is trained in Christian conflict resolution. He is committed to respecting the beliefs of all persons and will not use the Biblical teaching unless the parties want that alternative.

For more information about guardianship or medication, please contact Lennie at 321-251-8133.