Guardianship and Ethics

Few professions raise issues as interesting, complex and ethically challenging as guardianship. The task of making major decisions for others – often with no or only the slenderest threads of information – can be daunting. Yet in an aging and increasingly disconnected society, the number of people requiring the services of guardians is increasing. It should be uncontroversial to regard people who have been determined to be incompetent as vulnerable. Indeed, wards are arguably as vulnerable as individuals in any group.

Moreover, given the high stakes of many guardianship decisions, and in light of the challenging ethical questions they pose, it is not a little surprising there are so few resources to guide guardians when they must address these questions. This is unfortunate in light of the increasing number of guardianship cases that make their way to institutional ethics committees … and because there are vastly many more cases for which there is no ethics committee to turn to.

For these reasons, the Florida Guardianship Ethics Project has been created as a collaboration among the Florida Bioethics Network, the Florida State Guardianship Association and the University of Miami Ethics Programs. The project has three overarching goals:

  • Design of an ethics curriculum for guardians, lawyers, family members, judges and others.
  • Establishment of a statewide guardianship ethics consultation service.
  • Fostering a mechanism to review and create institutional and other policies related to guardianship and surrogate decision making.

This document represents a first approximation of one component of the first goal. Ethics curricula in the health and other professions have for decades thrived and relied on case studies to illustrate issues, identify best practices and suggest ethically optimized solutions in challenging cases.

Hence, Case Studies in Ethics and Guardianship constitutes an initial effort to provide preliminary curricular tools. The document should be regarded as a work in progress. Curriculum components are available on the menu bar at left.


  • Jacqueline Schneider, J.D., practices elder law in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. She is an Adjunct Professor at St. Thomas University School of Law where she teaches in the Elder Law Clinic. Ms. Schneider was a Judicial Staff Attorney in the Probate Division of the Broward County Courts, where for a time she served as the Court’s Director of Probate and Guardianship Services. She served on the Guardianship Committees for the Florida Bar’s Elder Law Section and its Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section, and the Ethics Committee of the Florida State Guardianship Association (FSGA).
  • Jenna Pantel was a student at the University of Miami School of Law. She previously interned for the New York State Office of Children and Family Services in the public affairs division.
  • Kenneth W. Goodman, Ph.D., directs the University of Miami Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy and co-directs the university’s Ethics Programs. He is director of the Florida Bioethics Network, and chaired the Florida State Guardianship Association’s Ethics Committee.


All cases in this collection are actual and bona fide; that is, no cases have been invented. Names and initials of individuals are used only when the designations are in the public record; in other cases, if a name is used it is fictitious to protect privacy.

While cases included here come from around the country, the material in this document/Website was prepared in Florida and is therefore to some extent shaped by Florida law. Users in other states should not assume that terms (e.g., “proxy” and “surrogate”) are used the same or have the same meaning in all states and jurisdictions.

While many of the cases and comments involve legal as well as ethical issues, nothing in this document should be understood to be providing or suggesting legal advice. Those with legal issues or questions should seek competent legal counsel.

The cases and questions for discussion are intended to be pedagogic tools and not vehicles for expressing opinions or advancing any particular view. Nevertheless, any views that might be inferred from the material herein should be attributed exclusively to the authors and not to the Statewide Public Guardianship Office, the Florida State Guardianship Association, the University of Miami or St. Thomas University.

This effort was supported by a grant in 2006 to the Florida State Guardianship Association from the Statewide Public Guardianship Office in Florida's Department of Elder Affairs, under the good offices of Michelle R. Hollister, Esq., Executive Director.

Comments, questions and suggestions, including suggestions for additional cases, may be sent to the University of Miami Ethics Programs at