Overview - Probate Guardianship and Mental Health Division
The Probate, Guardianship and Mental Health Division of the Circuit Court in Pinellas County carries an ongoing caseload of approximately 8,700 actions related to estates, trusts, guardianships, and mental health.
The Court employs an attorney administrator, who also acts as a general magistrate, a general magistrate to handle Baker Act hearings, a general magistrate to conduct audits of all guardianship reports and accountings, a guardianship monitor and three administrative assistants.
The Sixth Judicial circuit monitors between 3,000 and 4,000 active guardianships in Pinellas County alone. While the majority of these cases involve elderly citizens, a number also involve the settlement approval and safeguarding of proceeds for minor children.
General magistrates assist the probate judges by conducting incapacity hearings, restoration hearings, and reviewing the mandatory annual reports submitted by guardians.
A guardianship monitor investigates allegations of abuse, neglect or exploitation of the elderly in guardianship cases. The monitor is also responsible for investigating the parents of minor children who have failed to report to the Court or have misappropriated the assets of the guardianship. Many investigations initiated by the court staff have resulted in criminal convictions. More importantly, many of these same investigations have avoided potentially dangerous and harmful situations for the elderly. The monitor has been responsible for identifying numerous cases of misappropriated funds and has been instrumental in retrieving some of those funds or assisting the court in bringing appropriate actions against these parties.
The probate division is also responsible for administering the law in numerous areas in the mental health arena. All actions cognizable under Chapter 392 (Involuntary commitment for Tuberculosis,) Chapter 393 (Developmental Disabilities), Chapter 394 (Mental Health), Chapter 397 (Drug or Alcohol Abuse), and Chapter 415 (Elder Abuse, Neglect or Exploitation) are heard in the probate division.
Chapter 415 of the Florida Statutes provides for involuntary protective service under the Department of Children and Families whenever it is suspected that an elderly or disabled adult is the victim of abuse, exploitation, or self-neglect. These hearings must be held on an expedited basis. Often these cases result in criminal charges being filed for exploitation or abuse of the elderly or disabled adult.
The court employs a general magistrate to hear all petitions for involuntary placement under Florida’s Mental Health Act, commonly known as the Baker Act. Approximately 2,000 Baker Act petitions are filed annually and subsequent hearings are conducted on a substantial number of the cases. The general magistrates also conduct all hearings under Chapter 397 (Drug or Alcohol Abuse) in the Sixth Circuit.