If you are in the State of New Jersey and would like to discuss guardianship or your estate plan, our team at Willis Law Group LLC is here to provide you with any assistance that you may need. To schedule a consultation, we encourage you to give our main office a call at (877) 296-2575 or attend one of our free educational workshops throughout New Jersey.
Being appointed guardianship of a loved one is a serious responsibility. As the guardian, you are in charge of your loved one’s well-being and you have a duty to act in his or her best interest.
If an adult becomes mentally incapacitated or is incapable of making responsible decisions, the court will appoint someone into the role of decision maker. This person is often referred to as a “guardian” but is also called a “conservator” or other term in some states. Guardianship is a legal relationship between a competent adult (guardian) and a person who is no longer in a mental capacity to take care of his or her own affairs (ward).
Once you been appointed a guardian, the following items are things you need to know:
- Read the court order. The court appoints the guardian, and it also sets up your powers and duties. You can be authorized to make legal, financial and health care decisions for the ward. Depending on the terms of the guardianship, you may or may not have to seek court approval for various decisions. If you are unsure what you are legally allowed to do, consult with a lawyer in your state.
- Fiduciary duty. You have what is called a “fiduciary duty” to your ward, which is an extremely high standard. You are legally required to act in the best interest of your ward at all times, and you must manage your ward’s money and property carefully. With that in mind, it is imperative that you keep your personal finances separate from those of the ward. Additionally, you should never use the ward’s money to give (or lend) money to someone else or for someone else’s benefit (or your own benefit) without court approval. As part of your fiduciary duty, you must also maintain good records of everything you receive or spend. Keep all of your receipts and a detailed list of where the ward’s money was spent.
- File reports on time. The court order should specify what reports you are required to file. The first report is usually an inventory of the ward’s property. You then may have to file annual accountings with the court that detail what you spent and received on behalf of the ward. After the ward passes away or the guardianship ends, you will need to file a final accounting.
- Consult the ward. You should include the ward in your decision-making as much as possible. Communicate what you are doing and try to determine what your ward would like to have done.
- Don’t limit social interaction. Guardians should not limit a ward’s interaction with family and friends unless it would cause substantial harm. In some states, there are laws in place that require a guardian to allow the ward to communicate with loved ones. Social interaction is usually beneficial to both an individual’s well-being and sense of self-worth. In the event that the ward has to move, try to keep him or her near loved ones.
For more information, read a detailed guide from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on being a guardian.