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Rotary Happenings: Rotary’s guest speaker talks about elder law, guardianship

By Staff | Apr 2, 2019

PHOTO PROVIDED Lisa Absher was the guest speaker at the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club's meeting on March 22.

Amazing! The weather on March 23 was outstanding for the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club’s inaugural “Wheels for Wheels” in-house fundraiser. Final wrap up numbers won’t be available for a week or two but it looks like the club will come close, if not exceed, the goal of raising $25,000 for the purchase of 250 wheelchairs through the Southwest Florida Wheelchair Foundation for distribution in the Caribbean sometime this year. Dollar amounts come in through individual pledges collected by the Rotarian bike riders for each mile they rode during the event. Just as a little tease, here is one number that will certainly impress you: Rotarian Joleen Raho rode 100 miles, starting before sunrise and ending somewhere around high-noon. Noon was the estimated time for the end of the ride. To-date she is the leader of the pack. Her final pledge amount has not been recorded yet, so stand-by for that number. I’m sure that will be impressive, as well. The cost of each wheelchair through the foundation is $100. More details regarding the event will be coming soon, just waiting for official numbers.

Putting the brakes on this topic and pedaling back a little, the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club’s guest speaker for its March 22 meeting was Lisa Absher, who had participated for years in the Guardian Ad Litem program (court appointed guardians for children representing the best interests of children as a neutral third party and advocate in legal proceedings and wellness concerns). She spoke about elder law and guardianship under Florida Statue 744. Under state law, guardians ad litems have considerable power, arguably assisting the court as the trier of fact to protect the best interests of the child. After having children of her own, Absher took a step away from involvement with guardian ad litem. She knew she would be too emotionally affected by some of the circumstances and outcomes of her guardian ad litem work with children.

Five years ago, Absher stepped back into a position of Florida guardianship, but this time as a professional legally-certified, Florida Department for the Elderly legal guardian. She had to take 40 hours of specialized training, pass an examination on best practices in guardianship of elderly or handicapped persons and estate finance, acquire a $50,000 Blanket Bond, submit information on her credit history, register with the state and be approved. There is high accountability in this position.

Florida has many unusual cases of elderly abuse. Long lives and long histories follow the elderly, and many find themselves in extremely exposed positions due to physical and mental health-related circumstances, no close or trusting relationships with relatives and friends, and may be experiencing financially distress and vulnerability.

As Absher pointed out in the ideal circumstance, some distress can be avoided if you have the following five legal documents in place that can assist your loved ones in medical or financial emergency or at death to ease the distribution of assets: medical directive, durable power of attorney for healthcare and HiPAA release, durable power of attorney for finances, revocable living trust, and will.

But let’s face it, not all of us live in ideal circumstances and many elderly experience distress at their most vulnerable time of life. They find themselves alone; no close or long-time friends and family around to rely on. Some come to rely on the kindness of strangers, some of these strangers many not have the best interest of their elderly friends at heart. As an example, Absher told the story of how an elderly person befriended a clerk in the drugstore. The clerk was quite aware that this person was vulnerable on many levels. The clerk took advantage of the elderly person and got them to loan them $20,000, with no intention of paying them back. Many different scenarios like this one are played out all over Florida, both by strangers and sometimes by relatives.

The Florida Department of the Elderly receives information about potential elderly physical, mental and financial abuse in many different ways – a medical provider, banker, attorney, housekeeper, neighbor, clergy, family member, et cetera. Each case reported to the county or state is followed up on and a guardian may be selected or appointed by the courts as a protective shield for the elderly clients.

For information about the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club, visit sanibelrotary.org or www.facebook.com/sancaprotary. The club meets every Friday at 7 a.m. at the Dunes Golf and Tennis Club, at 949 Sand Castle Road, Sanibel; visitors are welcome to attend.