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Top 3 Tips to Protect Your Loved Ones in the Wake of the Rebecca Fierle Guardianship Scandal

September 04, 2019

By: Melody Lynch

Per AARP, an estimated 1.3 million American adults are under guardianship, with approximately 85% being over age 65.  In the wake of revelations that professional guardian, Rebecca Fierle, signed Do Not Resuscitate orders for a plethora of elderly wards in her care without knowledge or approval by family members, you may be wondering how to protect your family in the event that guardianship is necessary or appropriate.

The first tip is that FAMILY IS BEST.  Rebecca Fierle aside, there are dedicated and wonderful professional guardians who serve an important function in the guardianship system.  However, wherever possible, select a family member to serve as guardian.  Two family members can also be appointed as co-guardians to ease the burden on any one family member.  Family members have intimate knowledge of the ward’s likes, dislikes, preferences, and medical history that can be critically important in the long-run.

The second tip is to BE REPRESENTED.  The Court will appoint a lawyer for the ward.  However, you can (and should) hire your own lawyer to participate in the process and to keep the family involved in making decisions that are truly in the best interest of the ward.  Court appointed lawyers are not compensated unless a guardianship is established.  This is not always in the best interest of the ward but you need a lawyer to participate and seek less restrictive means where appropriate.  This leads me to my third and most important tip:

BE AN ADVOCATE.  Whether through your lawyer or individually, effective communication and active participation is necessary to protect your loved one.  Do not sit on the sidelines and assume that the professional guardian or family guardian has everything handled properly.  Seek out copies of relevant records and ask questions.  As we’ve learned from the Rebecca Fierle scandal, your active participation could be a matter of life or death for your loved one.  While the investigation is ongoing in the Fierle matter, the media has reported that the Attorney General is investigating Medicare fraud and financial exploitation.  The cremated remains of 9 wards were found in Ms. Fierle’s office by local law enforcement and conflicts of interest between a local hospital and an examining committee member charged with determining whether a person lacks capacity and requires guardianship in the first place abound.  Stay vigilant and part of the process to ensure the safety of your elderly family member.
This article is informational only. You should consult an attorney before acting or failing to act. The law may change rapidly and no warranty is given. LOWNDES DISCLAIMS ALL IMPLIED WARRANTIES AND WITHOUT LIMITATION, ANY WARRANTY OF FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. ALL ARTICLES ARE PROVIDED AS IS AND WITH ALL FAULTS. Consult a Lowndes attorney if you wish to establish an attorney/client relationship.

Melody Lynch focuses her practice on probate, trust & fiduciary litigation, contested guardianships, and complex business disputes. Her MBA complements her law degree when she analyzes financial statements and handles other complicated issues involving assets. 

A significant portion of Melody’s practice is devoted to resolving conflicts among family members and other estate beneficiaries, fights over missing assets and property ownership, claims by or against fiduciaries, guardianship challenges, and other proceedings requiring the interpretation of wills and trusts. She frequently helps charitable organizations, foundations, trustees and other institutional beneficiaries of large estates navigate the probate process. Whether in or out of the courtroom, Melody handles these delicate – and often emotional – issues not just with legal proficiency but with compassion as well.  

Melody’s experience extends to other business disputes too, particularly in the employment law arena with matters involving restrictive covenants as well as non-compete and non-disclosure agreements. She has protected employers in a wide range of industries, including medical devices, pest control, physicians and physician practices. 

In addition, she is a Guardian ad Litem for the Legal Aid Society where she represents the interests of abused and neglected children. She also is a pro bono attorney for Seniors First where she represents the interests of indigent elderly wards. 

The court room isn’t the only stage on which Melody has appeared. Before pursuing her career in law, Melody attended college on a ballet scholarship and was an apprentice dancer with a professional ballet company. A native of Orlando, her passion for both the arts and the area informs her leadership roles in the Central Florida community. She serves as president-elect of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, was named to the prestigious Orlando Business Journal’s "40 under 40" list, and was awarded the Presidential Leadership Award by the Orange County Bar Association. 

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