Special Needs Planning in NJ – Part 2 of 4

Guardianship

Guardianship

In Part II of this Series, I want to discuss why formal guardianship is important and how to go about being recognized as the legal guardian of a special needs individual.

Until the person turns 18, a parent can legally make decisions for the child. However, once a person turns age 18, he or she is an adult. As an adult, a person is entitled, and in fact obligated, to make his or her own decisions. If that person needs help making his or her own decisions, but is still competent, that person can execute a Power of Attorney.

If the person is not competent to make their own decisions, then another person can only have the legal authority to act on behalf of the incapacitated person if a court appoints them as Guardian.

The Guardian can:

  1. make health care decisions for the child;
  2. handle the finances of the child;
  3. enter into contracts on behalf of the child;
  4. deal with government agencies on behalf of the child; and
  5. make decisions regarding living arrangements.

What is the process for naming a guardian?

Step 1: Determine if there is a need for a Guardianship, or if there is a better alternative (such as a Power of Attorney).

Step 2: Meet with an attorney to discuss all the information needed to help the attorney file any legal paperwork on your behalf. (E.g. Who will be the guardian, who would be a good backup guardian, what is the disability of the child, what are the living arrangements and needs of the child, who are the doctors, caregivers, does the child have any money in his/her name, etc.)

Step 3: Get the doctors to sign affidavits confirming child’s inability to handle his or her own affairs.

Step 4: File the paperwork with the Court to have the child declared an incapacitated person and have the Court order an attorney be appointed for the child.

Step 5: Work with the Court appointed attorney to make sure that they have the information they need to file a report with the Court. The attorney for the child will need to interview the child and the proposed guardians.

Step 6: The court appointed attorney will need to file a report with the court either recommending guardianship, limited guardianship or that no guardian be appointed.

Step 7: The Judge will then rule on the matter.

If the guardianship is uncontested— the process usually takes about two months and can cost about $3,000 to $6,000.

If the guardianship is contested by either the child or another person who wishes to act as guardian— the costs can become quite high. Accordingly, it is usually best to make sure that the child and immediate family members are in agreement with the guardianship plans.