Basic Guide for the Guardian of a Loved One’s Estate

If your loved one is no longer competent to make his/her own decisions, it may be necessary to appoint a guardian for their estate. A guardian is responsible for protecting the estate’s assets, which can consist of income or pension earnings, real property, stocks, bonds, and more.

In order to become a guardian of the estate, you must file an application with the Superior Court of NJ. A judge will determine whether you qualify as a guardian. If you do qualify, the judge will issue a judgment to confirm guardianship. The judge may also require you to post a surety bond, which essentially acts as an insurance policy to protect the assets of the protected individual. Then, you will receive certificates which assert your authority over the estate.

After you are appointed, you must notify the protected person’s financial institutions and present those institutions with a copy of the judgment and certificate identified above. The protected individual’s assets must be re-titled in order to indicate that you are exercising control on their behalf.

As a guardian, you will make decisions on behalf of your loved one. You can make decisions in one of two ways: (1) using substituted judgment or (2) the best interest standard. When using substituted judgment, you are making the decision that the protected person would make if he were capable. This can be difficult to determine, and it might help to discuss the matter with other family members in order to truly understand what that person would have wanted. Alternatively, you can utilize the best interest standard and determine what you believe would be in your loved one’s best interest.

Guardians of the estate have reporting requirements. First, you must file an inventory of assets within a few months of being appointed as a guardian of the estate. Annual income and expense reports must also be filed for as long as you serve as the guardian.

It is important to note that guardians may receive payment for services that they perform on behalf of the estate. If you pay for something that benefits the protected person, you are also permitted reimbursement through the estate. Finally, if you choose to hire an attorney, those fees can be deducted from the estate so long as the court determines that the fees are “reasonable and necessary.” 

Becoming a guardian of a loved one’s estate can be a very time consuming and stressful experience. The attorneys at Ward, Shindle and Hall would be happy to assist you in understanding the complexities of the process and ensuring that you are taking all of the necessary steps. Please feel free to contact our firm if you have any additional questions or if you would like to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys.