Can a Guardian Go to Jail for Failing to Follow Court Orders?
When a Florida adult is considered legally incapacitated to make financial or healthcare decisions for themselves, a judge may need to step in and appoint a guardian. A guardianship is a significant responsibility. The guardian is required to comply with a multitude of laws and orders and must file periodic reports with the court in order to ensure the guardianship is being managed properly. A guardian who fails in these responsibilities can be held personally liable for any financial losses suffered by the guardianship, and in some cases may be held in contempt of court and sent to jail.
Ex-Guardian Removed After Failing to Properly Account for Mother’s Property
The Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal recently weighed-in on such a contempt case. In Hicks v. Hicks, the appeals court actually reversed part of a trial court’s order that could have sent a former guardian to jail. The Fourth District nevertheless agreed the ex-guardian had failed in living up to the responsibilities of the position.
The ex-guardian had been named as guardian of his mother. As the Fourth District explained, during his tenure the ex-guardian “failed to comply with several court orders, including failure to place the ward’s property in a restricted account; failure to file annual plans, annual accountings, and inventories; and failure to complete a guardian education course.”
All of this prompted the ex-guardian’s sister to petition the court overseeing the guardianship to appoint a forensic accountant to audit the guardianship’s books. The court agreed such an audit was necessary and ordered the ex-guardian to pay for the costs of hiring the forensic accountant. Unfortunately, the ex-guardian failed to pay the accountant or cooperate in the audit. This prompted the court to issue “multiple orders of contempt, enforcement, and sanctions.” Eventually, the court simply removed the ex-guardian and ordered him to file a final report.
As you might have guessed, the ex-guardian never filed this report. However, the forensic accountant completed his audit and found “significant differences” between the income reported on the guardian’s account and the income reported to the IRS. The ex-guardian sister’s then asked for a hearing, demanding her brother explain why he should not be held in contempt once again.
The ex-guardian failed to appear at the hearing. The court determined he was therefore in “indirect civil contempt” and ordered him to pay $17,284.88 in forensic accounting fees. If the ex-guardian failed to pay this amount, the judge said he would be incarcerated.
On appeal, the Fourth District affirmed the award of accounting fees. But it reversed a separate award of attorney’s fees to the sister and the trial court’s threat to imprison the ex-guardian if he failed to pay the accounting fees. The appeals court explained that the trial court failed to make an express finding that the ex-guardian acted in “bad faith,” which is a necessary step before awarding attorney’s fees. Furthermore, before enforcing a contempt order with jail time, the trial court was required to determine the ex-guardian’s actual ability to pay the accounting fees. The trial court failed to do so.
Speak with a Florida Guardianship Lawyer Today
Civil contempt is an extraordinary action that a court will only take when a guardian deliberately neglects their responsibilities. If you find yourself acting as the guardian for a loved one, you can avoid such a scenario by working with an experienced Fort Myers guardianship attorney, who can help ensure you follow the law. Contact the Kuhn Law Firm, P.A., at 239-333-4529 today to schedule an initial consultation with a member of our team.