Morris v. Knight, — So.2d —-, 2009 WL 321586 (Fla. 4th DCA Feb 11, 2009)

Florida probate judges get a huge amount of deference when deciding whom to appoint as guardian. So if your client is on the losing end of an order appointing someone else guardian, an appeal is probably a waste of money. Here’s how this point was made in the linked-to opinion:

 The standard of review here is abuse of discretion. In re Guardianship of Sitter, 779 So.2d 346 (Fla. 2d DCA 2000). The appointment of guardian is a discretionary act of the trial court, which must be supported by logic and justification and founded on substantial competent evidence. Id. at 348. The trial court’s decision should be reviewed for reasonableness. Id. And the appellate court should not find an abuse of discretion unless “no reasonable person would take the view adopted by the trial court.” Wilson v. Robinson, 917 So.2d 312 (Fla. 5th DCA 2005).

Bottom line, figure your client has only one real shot in this type of case. Don’t count on an appellate court second guessing your judge.

Family Preference in Guardianship Proceedings:

Once your client realizes that yes, what your probate judge thinks really matters, and no, an appeal is probably not a good idea, then hopefully everyone will focus on what’s most important: the ward’s best interests. It doesn’t matter if your client is related to the ward [click here] or if the ward executed a pre-need guardian declaration naming your client his or her guardian [click here], if the judge decides it’s in the ward’s best interests to appoint someone else as guardian, that’s probably the end of the story. Here’s how the 4th DCA made this point:

Under [F.S. § 744.312], “a person who is related by blood or marriage to the ward” does receive preference in appointment; however, the inquiry does not end there. The court also has the discretion to give preference to a non-relative who possesses particular experience or ability to serve as guardian. See, e.g., Treloar v. Smith, 791 So.2d 1195 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001) (finding that while next of kin are given first consideration, statute does not mandatorily require that such an appointment be made; rather, statute specifically provides that court may appoint any person who is qualified, whether related to the ward or not). Moreover, it is the best interest of the ward that trumps other considerations in the appointment of a guardian. See, e.g., In re Guardianship of Stephens, 965 So.2d at 852 (“The best interests of the Ward-which include choosing a qualified guardian for the Ward-come first. Family member preference in and of itself is secondary, regardless of how well qualified the family members are.”).

In this case, Morris and Glinton argue that they are better fit than Knight to serve Barker’s interests because they plan to move her to a better nursing home. Even setting aside the trial court’s finding that both Morris and Glinton are unfit to become Barker’s guardian, they have not demonstrated how simply moving Barker from one facility to another would best serve her interests. Morris and Glinton have maintained minimal involvement in Barker’s care, whether family or not, and they are not now in the position to serve Barker’s best interests, whether family or not. It is thus our view that the trial court was reasonable in concluding that Barker’s care and interests would be best left up to Knight. See In re Guardianship of Stephens, 965 So.2d 847, 849 (Fla. 2d DCA 2007) (finding that as long as the record contained competent evidence to support the trial court’s decision to appoint a non-relative as guardian, there is no abuse of discretion).