Guardianships

Bergen County Attorney Skilled in Family Law Matters

By age 18, all individuals are considered to have reached the legal age of majority, at which point parents are not entitled to make decisions for them. However, some individuals have developmental disabilities or medical conditions that make it necessary to secure a guardian for them. In other cases, both parents die, and a child must be appointed a guardian. Sometimes an elderly person develops a disability that necessitates a guardian. At Leopold Law, Bergen County guardianship lawyer Howard Leopold advises families who are considering guardianships for a family member in Northern New Jersey. He can also assist with other issues related to child custody and visitation.

Understanding the Function of Guardianships

A guardian is a person or agency that the court appoints to act on behalf of another individual. Establishing a guardianship is a legal procedure that can be undertaken either with the help of the Bureau of Guardianship Services at the Department of Human Services or an attorney. Guardianships are considered a last resort once a person is an adult because it removes a person's right to determine matters for himself or herself.

In some cases, individuals appoint a power of attorney to make decisions for them, rather than having a guardian. However, this is only appropriate when the individual can understand that they are appointing somebody else to make decisions for them in connection with their person or their property and assets. A power of attorney or other estate planning instrument is less expensive than a guardianship, and it can be altered or revoked depending on the circumstances. It is considered preferable if the person seeking care has functioning mental capacity and is an adult. However, there are situations in which a person's mental or physical capacity is so affected that they cannot make sound decisions, or they may be a danger to themselves or others. A guardianship attorney in Bergen County can advise you on whether it may be appropriate in your circumstances.

A guardianship may be a better choice than a power of attorney, particularly in cases of severe disability or in situations when the person is a child. There are two types of guardianships. A general guardianship is also called a plenary guardianship, and it is put in place when someone is unable to make or communicate any decision. However, there are also limited guardianships that cover specific decisions related to residence, education, or medical, legal, and financial matters. For example, a guardian may decide who a ward's doctor is, which type of medical treatment should be administered, what the ward eats for meals, how the ward is transported, and where they live. Guardians may also control the assets of the ward, manage their budget, pay their debts, and invest money on their behalf. Creating a limited guardianship with the assistance of a Bergen County guardianship attorney may be appropriate when a person is able to make and communicate certain decisions, but not all of them.

Once appointed, the guardian will be legally empowered to act on behalf of either a disabled adult or a minor to make sure that their rights, safety, welfare, and health are adequately protected. In some cases, they will simply make decisions on behalf of the person, but they may also be able to give informed consent in certain or all matters. Generally, the ward is involved in decision making if they have the ability to be involved.

When a family wishes to establish a guardianship for a disabled adult, they must file a verified complaint with the Surrogate's Court in the county where the disabled person lives. The complaint needs to include specific information, and it needs the support of doctors' affidavits about recent examinations of the person who is incapacitated. After the complaint is filed, the court enters an order appointing an attorney for the disabled person, and it schedules a hearing at which evidence will be presented. If the court decides that the person is truly disabled, it enters a judgment that appoints a guardian. The guardian will need to appear before the County Surrogate to qualify before making decisions for the disabled person.

Contact a Knowledgeable Guardianship Lawyer in Bergen County or Beyond

Our dedicated legal team at Leopold Law may be able to help your family apply for a guardianship for a child or an incapacitated adult. We represent people in Bergen, Passaic, Hudson, and Essex Counties. Call Leopold Law at (201) 345-5907 or contact us via our online form to set up a free consultation. We also assist people who need guidance on the emancipation process or other legal matters involving children.

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