We were talking about a typical day in probate court. Florida's probate courts hear all sorts of matters, and, according to our sources, many of them can bring out the "less good" (a friend's term) in family members. In will contests and some guardianship cases, our sources say, a probate judge can feel like an invisible guest at the worst family Thanksgiving ever.
You can learn a lot about the peculiarities of the law and the frailty of human nature in probate court. A recent article highlighted some cases from a court that may not be in Florida but that has seen its share of situations involving Floridians.
One family asked the court to settle a dispute over a nursing home bill. Their mother had died just a few weeks after she'd entered the nursing home, and they had not had enough time to spend down her assets to meet the Medicare threshold. On top of that, the kids had exceeded the state limit on what they could spend on the funeral. The question was if they had to reimburse the state for the difference so the state could apply it to what was owed to the nursing home.
In the state in question, probate judges have jurisdiction over a person who is located in the state who cannot tend to his own physical needs -- essentially, under a broad array of circumstances, the judge becomes or appoints the conservator for people who become incapacitated in the state, regardless of their residency.
The case that brought the fairly new law home to one judge involved an elderly man who fell ill while visiting his daughter. His daughter was a resident of the state; the man was not. The law kicked in, and the probate court appointed a conservator.
That conservator decided the old man would do better if he were admitted to a local hospital. Admitting wasn't the issue. Getting him home was -- 10 months and a Superior Court order later, he set foot in his own front door.
Florida's snowbird population and their families will want to take note. In addition to learning about human nature, a day-in-the-life look at probate court should serve as a warning that we need to be familiar with the laws of our "other" home states.
Source: Connecticut Post, "A volatile mix of law and emotion," Frank Juliano, 06/02/2011