Guardianship Self-Help

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Adult Guardianship in New Jersey

Court-appointed guardians oversee adults who are not able to make decisions or care for themselves. They need to have legal authority to make decisions for the person under guardianship (also called “incapacitated person”). Only the courts can grant that power. Adult guardianship cases are filed with the county Surrogate’s Office and heard in Superior Court.

Reasons why someone may need a guardian include:

  • Mental illness
  • Intellectual disability.
  • Physical illness or disability.
  • Chronic drug use.
  • Chronic alcoholism.

There are three types of guardianship:

  • Guardianship of the person and estate. The guardian takes care of the well-being and finances of the person under guardianship.
  • Guardianship of the person only. The guardian only takes care of the well-being of the person under guardianship.
  • Guardianship of the estate only. The guardian only manages the financial affairs of the person under guardianship.

The court decides if the person needs general or limited guardianship.

  • General Guardianship. The guardian can exercise all rights and powers on behalf of the person under guardianship.
  • Limited Guardianship. The guardian’s role is less intrusive and more individualized, so that the person under guardianship can make some decisions for themselves.

Guardians have important responsibilities. They must follow all court rules and file periodic reports. Learn more with the Guardianship of the Person and Guardianship of the Estate brochures. You can also watch a tutorial on court-appointed guardianship.

Volunteers in the Guardianship Monitoring Program (GMP) help the court by reviewing the periodic reports filed by guardians. The GMP is part of the court’s role in looking after persons under guardianship.

Do I need a lawyer?

The court system can be confusing, and it is a good idea to get a lawyer if you can. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you can contact the legal services program in your county to see if you qualify for free legal services.

Legal Services of New Jersey maintains a directory of regional legal services offices.

The NJ State Bar Association also maintains a list of county referral services that might be helpful.

Things to think about before you represent yourself in court

While you have the right to represent yourself in court, you should not expect any special treatment, help, or attention from the court. You must still comply with the Rules of the Court, even if you are not familiar with them. The following is a list of some things the court staff can and cannot do for you. Please read it carefully before asking the court staff for help. 

  • We can explain and answer questions about how the court works.
  • We can tell you what the requirements are to have your case considered by the court.
  • We can give you some information from your case file.
  • We can provide you with samples of court forms that are available.
  • We can provide you with guidance on how to fill out forms.
  • We can usually answer questions about court deadlines.
  • We cannot give you legal advice. Only your lawyer can give you legal advice.
  • We cannot tell you whether or not you should bring your case to court.
  • We cannot give you an opinion about what will happen if you bring your case to court.
  • We cannot recommend a lawyer, but we can provide you with the telephone number of a local lawyer referral service.
  • We cannot talk to the judge for you about what will happen in your case.
  • We cannot let you talk to the judge outside of court.
  • We cannot change an order issued by a judge.

How to Become a Guardian

A person applying to the court for guardianship needs to prove the person is incapacitated. They are an alleged incapacitated person (AIP) until the court reaches a decision in the case.

File your case with county surrogate in the county where the AIP Lives.

Do you need a guardianship of the estate? Does the AIP have:

  • Income from earnings or pension,
  • Real property, or
  • Stocks, bonds, etc.

In many cases, guardianship of the estate is not required if:

  • The AIP has no assets or real property.
  • The AIP is only collecting Social Security Benefits.

Some AIPs are eligible for Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) benefits. There are special filing instructions for these cases.

For standard guardianship cases, you will need:

  • Certification of Physician or Psychologist (2). A doctor must certify as to the AIP’s condition. A second doctor or psychologist also needs to certify as to their condition. They must conduct personal examinations of the AIP within 30 days of filing the application for guardianship. You will complete the top section of the form. The health professional(s) will complete the rest of the form.
  • Adult Guardianship Case Information Statement (CIS). This form outlines the details of the case. Instructions are provided with the form.
  • Verified Complaint Form. This document describes why the AIP cannot make decisions or care for themselves and asks the court to find them incapacitated and appoint a guardian for them.
  • Certification of Assets. This form lists all property and income of the AIP. It is required even if you are not seeking guardianship of the estate.
  • Certification of Criminal and Civil Judgment History. This form describes the proposed guardian’s criminal and civil judgment history, if any. Having a criminal or civil judgment history does not automatically prevent someone from serving as guardian. The court can use this information and other factors to help decide who should serve as guardian.
  • Order Fixing Guardianship Hearing Date. The court needs to set a court date and assign an attorney for the AIP. You will complete the top section identifying yourself as plaintiff. Leave the docket number blank. The court will assign a docket number. The judge will set the date, assign counsel for the AIP, and return the completed form to you.
  • Judgement of Incapacity and Appointment of Guardian(s) of the Person and Estate OR Judgment of Incapacity and Appointment of Guardian(s) of the Person. Choose the appropriate form if you are seeking to be guardian of the estate or not. You will complete the top section. The judge will complete the rest of the judgment if approved.

The attorney representing the AIP typically works pro bono. If the attorney is to be paid, you can use the AIP’s assets to pay the fees. If their assets are insufficient, you will have to pay the fees.

If the AIP is Eligible for DDD Benefits

Choose which packet applies:

Complete the forms in the appropriate packet. Detailed instructions are provided.

A doctor or psychologist must examine the AIP. They need to sign an affidavit certifying as to the AIP’s condition. They need to personally examine the AIP within six months of filing.

A second document is needed to support the case. It can be:

  • An affidavit from the DDD program administrator.
  • An affidavit from a designee of the DDD.
  • An affidavit of a second doctor or psychologist.
  • A copy of the person’s Individualized Education Program. It must include any medical or other reports. It cannot be older than two years prior to filing.
  • An affidavit from a licensed care professional.

File Your Case

Attach the required certifications to the forms. Make at least 2 copies of all forms. Keep a set of copies for your records. Include the originals and one copy of each when you file.

Include a fee of $200. Send the fee, completed forms and copies to the county surrogate. You can deliver them in person or by mail.

After You File

The court will appoint an attorney to represent the AIP. The judge sets a court date.

The attorney will interview the AIP and others involved in the AIP’s care. They then write a report for the court. If the AIP contests the guardianship, the attorney may file an answer to the complaint instead of a report.

During the hearing, you will present your case. You need to prove that the AIP is incapacitated and needs a guardian. If you succeed, the judge will complete the written judgment naming the guardian. Keep the written judgment in your records.

Obtaining Letters of Guardianship

You cannot act as guardian until you qualify with the county surrogate. You must qualify within 30 days of the judgment.

To qualify:

  • Sign papers from the county surrogate, including an Acceptance of Guardianship.
  • Acknowledge receipt of guardianship training guide(s).
  • Acknowledge completion of guardian background screening, if it applies to you.
  • Post a surety bond**, if ordered by the judge.

Letters of Guardianship are issued after you qualify. These letters give you the power to act as guardian. Keep the letters in your records. Do not give them out.

You can use short certificates to prove you are a legal guardian. Examples include providing short certificates to doctors or banks. You can purchase short certificates from the county surrogate.

** Surety bonds protect the ward’s assets. If a guardian steals or misuses the assets, the bond covers their loss. Guardians will still be legally liable for any improper use of funds.

Payment for Guardians

Guardians of the estate are entitled to compensation for their efforts. The commission structure is based on the total value of the estate. In addition, guardians can receive a percentage of any income.

Guardians can also apply to court to cover:

  • Out-of-pocket costs related to guardianship.
  • Court fees and other required fees.
  • Attorney fees for reasonable actions.
  • Paying for professional services (doctors, housecleaners, etc.)

Guardians:

  • Cannot receive fees or other payments from the person under guardianship unless specifically ordered by the court.
  • Cannot receive gifts from the person under guardianship without prior court approval.

Guardians can also ask the court for permission to make gifts on behalf of the person under guardianship.

It is very important to keep detailed financial records. You will need to include this information in your periodic reports to the court. You might need to show proof of expenses. The court can request more information on spending. Friends and family members of the person under guardianship can ask the court to look into your spending. Keep all receipts, invoices, etc. for your records.

Concerns About a Guardianship

The friends and family of the person under guardianship have the right to check up on the guardianship. They can check to see if the person is being treated fairly. They can ask the court to review financial records. The guardian has a responsibility to show they are doing the right thing.

Use the Motion Kit to file with the court once guardianship goes into effect. Any party-in-interest can file a motion. This includes the guardian themselves, the ward, or friends and family.

You can file a guardianship motion if you want to:

  • Modify guardianship protection (such as reducing the amount of a surety bond)..
  • Modify reporting requirements.
  • Review a guardian’s conduct.
  • Review a guardianship.

Guardianship Reporting Requirements

Most guardians are required to periodically file reports with the court. The written judgment states your reporting requirements, including when you need to report and which forms to use.

Begin with the Introductory Instructions. You should also learn the Guardianship Terms and Procedures. These documents will help you learn the ins and outs of reporting.

All periodic guardian reports must include the Report of Guardian Cover Page. Save this form.

The Report of Well-Being states the overall care of the person under guardianship. You need to answer the questions about the person under guardianship to the best of your ability. The report needs to include the Certification of Examining Professional.

Guardianship of the Estate Reporting

Guardians of the estate need to file more involved reports. Typically, you must file the Guardian Inventory within 90 days of the written judgment. This document lists all assets and income of the person under guardianship. In most cases, the Guardian Inventory only needs to be filed once.

You will need to complete one of two forms:

The judgment will say which form to use, how often to file the report, and when the report is due.

Reports typically require a fee of $5 per page made payable to the county Surrogate. Contact the county Surrogate’s Office for payment details.

For questions about how to complete periodic guardian reporting forms, contact the Civil Practice Division  at  609-815-2900 ext. 54900  or  NJGuardianship.Mailbox@NJCourts.gov

For questions regarding how to file guardian reporting forms, contact the appropriate County Surrogate's Office.