SARASOTA, Fla. - Last week, the I-Team was there when 99-year-old Willi Berchau was released from Florida's guardianship program after a three-year court battle.
The I-Team has learned that a local non-profit group has been established to assist other families in avoiding or getting out of court-ordered guardianship.
"It is vast and it is deep," Beverly Newman said, when asked about how big of a problem was posed by Florida's professional guardianship program.
"It is an industry with layers of individuals who are profiteering from elders," she said.
Newman reached out to the I-Team after our investigation into Florida's professional guardianship program.
We've uncovered instances in which judges disregard written wishes of families, then gave control over their lives and finances to professional guardians.
Newman said the same thing happened to her.
"I walked into a land mine I did not imagine," Newman said.
In 2009, Newman's father Al Katz became sick and was admitted to a Sarasota hospital.
Katz, a Holocaust survivor, was a snowbird from Indiana.
Newman and her husband left Indianapolis and drove straight to Florida as soon as they heard Katz had become ill.
"We assumed, as his family and his caretakers for eight years, that we should be able to pick him up. No way," said Newman.
Katz, instead, was appointed a professional guardian by the courts.
Records show the guardian sought and received a "no contact order" preventing Katz's family from taking him home.
"We had no ability to speak to him, visit him. So my father, of course, thought he was abandoned," Newman said.
Newman, who had a power of attorney, health care directives and a living will for her father, fought the guardianship in court.
Katz was released from his guardianship and allowed to return to his family after a yearlong legal battle.
Newman said the guardian and attorneys spent more than a quarter of a million dollars of her father's money.
After her father died, Newman founded the Al Katz center, a non-profit organization in Sarasota that helps other families fight against abusive guardianships.
"People need strength. They need to comfort to continue to advocate for the elders. But they cannot do it for themselves," she said.
Newman says it's now her life's mission to convince lawmakers, judges and others in power not to allow what happened to her father happen to anyone else.
"Once you're in guardianship and once you're in the nursing home, it's a life sentence in almost every case," Newman said.
You can reach the Al Katz Center at (941) 313-9239 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .