Waldon Opinion Summary

Factual Background

Gorge Waldon (“Waldon”) and his wife were declared incapacitated in 2015.  One of their daughters, Elena George (“George”), was appointed as Mr. Walden’s guardian.  Another one of their daughters, Carla Alger (“Alger”), was appointed as Ms. Walden’s guardian.  George later discovered that Waldon decided to spend the winter in his cabin in Georgia with his two other daughters, Inez Howard (“Howard”) and Glenda Waldon.  In October of 2015, George travelled to Georgia to bring her father back, but he refused.  The Georgia court did not recognize the Florida court order appointing George as Waldon’s guardian.

In September of 2015, Walden reported physical and financial abuse by Alger, her husband, and a former caretaker to the Georgia Division of Aging Services.  Waldon later filed suit against all three parties.  Walden got a court order preventing Alger and her husband from threatening, contacting him, and/or attempting to remove him from Georgia.

In 2017, Alger petitioned for appointment as Waldon’s guardian.  In September 2018, at a hearing in Georgia, Waldon testified that he lived in Walker County, received social security, and Alger and her husband “took everything he owned.”  Alger filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Florida was the appropriate court to hear the petition, and the court agreed.

At the hearing on Alger’s appointment as Waldon’s guardian, the court heard testimony of several witnesses.  Alger testified that she had business experience, had taken a guardianship course, and she was already the guardian of the mother.  The trial court did not give weight to the restraining order Waldon got against Alger because the proceedings were conducted in a “questionable manner” with a lack of due process.  Howard argued that Alger had a conflict of interest because she was currently foreclosing on a mortgage on a property that Howard owned, and which Waldon held a junior mortgage lien.  Over Howard’s objections, the lower court entered an order appointing Alger as guardian, holding that the appointment was in Walden’s best interests and no conflict of interest existed.  Howard appealed.

Analysis

The lower court’s exercise of discretion in appointing Alger as the guardian was pursuant to section 742.312, Florida Statutes (2018).  A court may not appoint a guardian in any circumstance in which a conflict of interest is “[a] real or seeming incompatibility between one’s private interests and one’s public or fiduciary duties.”  Conflict of Interest, Black’s Law Dictionary (9th ed. 2009).  If a transaction involves a conflict of interest between a guardian and a ward, the transaction is prohibited, regardless of the fairness to the ward or whether the transaction is in the best interests of the ward.  See Sun Bank & Tr. Co. v. Jones, 645 So.2d 1008, 1018 (Fla. 5th DCA 1994).  The order appointing a guardian must be consistent with the incapacitated person’s welfare and safety and must be the least restrictive appropriate alternative.  §755.2005(3), Fla. Stat. (2018).  The appellate court found that the alleged conflict raised here, i.e., Alger’s senior mortgage in property in which Waldon held an interest, predated the appointment and was later disclosed.

When the facts are viewed in favor of sustaining the appointment, the court will not disturb such findings.  See Manassa v. Manassa, 738 So,.2d 997, 998 (Fla. 1st DCA 1999).  The appellate court upheld the trial court’s finding that the Georgia restraining order was invalid.  Dade Cty. Sch. Bd. V. Radio Station WQBA, 731 So.2d 638, 644 (Fla. 1999) (if a trial court reaches the right result, but for the wrong reasons, it will be upheld if there is any basis which support it).

Holding

Since there was no disqualifying conflict of interest, Alger’s appointment as guardian was affirmed.

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