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Orlando Judge Removes Professional Guardian After Causing Death of Ward


When an adult Florida resident is unable to properly care for themselves, and there is no family member available to act as their legal guardian, a judge may instead appoint a professional guardian. The Florida Department of Elderly Affairs establishes and enforces regulations for professional guardians. Of course, the mere fact that such regulations exist is no guarantee that individual guardians will fulfill their legal, ethical, and moral responsibilities to the adult wards under their care.

State Investigator: Guardian’s Motives for Withholding Necessary Medical Care Were “Not Rational”

A still-developing situation in Orlando offers a terrible cautionary tale of what can go wrong with professional guardianships. On July 3, Florida Circuit Judge Janet C. Thorpe issued an order on her own initiative removing a professional guardian from 98 cases. According to the judge the guardian, Rebecca Fierle, “executed numerous ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ orders on many of the Wards under her supervision without family or court permission.” Judge Thorpe also said Fierle was “compensated as a Medicaid caseworker for her wards, having received payments from hospitals and other facilities without disclosure or court permission.”

According to ABC Action News in Orlando, Fierle was named professional guardian of Steven Styker, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, last August. Although Stryker had previously signed a power of attorney naming a close friend as his agent to make decisions for him, Fierle asked a judge to name her guardian when the agent “was on vacation in Colorado.” The agent said Fierle would not let her have any contact with Stryker.

Fierle later moved Stryker to an assisted living facility in Tampa. While there, Stryker suffered injuries in a fall and was taken to the hospital. Fierle, acting as guardian, signed a DNR order for Stryker “even after hospital staff warned her of potential consequences,” ABC reported. Hospital staff also noted Stryker was “very lucid” and had “the capacity to make medical decisions” for himself. Nevertheless, hospital staff was bound by Fierle’s authority as guardian, and Stryker “choked to death while at the hospital.”

A subsequent report prepared by the Florida Office of Public and Professional Guardians confirmed Stryker “wanted to be resuscitated and wanted to be alive” despite Fierle’s orders. The state’s investigator went on to say Fierle’s motives “were not rational” as Stryker suffered from a condition that was “not generally considered terminal” and Fierle herself “does not have a healthcare background.”

Following Judge Thorpe’s order, Fierle also resigned from 40 additional guardianship cases in Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Seminole counties, according to ABC News.

Get Help from a Florida Estate Planning Lawyer Today

Terrible cases like this emphasize the critical importance of proper estate planning. If something happens to you, the last thing you want is a stranger holding the power to make medical decisions that could lead to your death. A qualified Fort Myers estate planning attorney can walk you through the process of setting up a proper power of attorney and other documents designed to protect your rights and interests. Contact the Kuhn Law Firm, P.A., at 239-333-4529 today to schedule a free consultation.


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