Ask a Family Law Lawyer in Bergen County: How to Choose the Right Guardian?

Ask a Family Law Lawyer in Bergen County: How to Choose the Right Guardian?

In New Jersey, a guardian is a person or agency appointed by the court to act on behalf of an individual. Establishing a guardianship is a legal process. Guardianships are sought to care for minor children upon the early death of their parents, and for people over 18 with developmental, mental, or physical disabilities. Some guardianships may even be created toward the end of a person’s life, particularly if that person suffers from cognitive difficulties, such as Alzheimer’s, and it was part of the older person’s elder care plan prior to the period of incapacitation.


Whether the prompt to designate a guardian begins when a child is born, an individual is diagnosed with a chronic illness, the parent is diagnosed with a chronic illness, or as part of the establishment of an estate plan, the process for obtaining a guardianship in New Jersey is the same.


Choosing a Guardian


When considering appointing a guardian for your minor children or an incapacitated adult, the first step is to find a person willing to act in such a capacity. Again, the role of a guardian is to act on behalf of the minor or incapacitated adult in all things. Many people are not willing to raise someone else’s child or care for an elderly or incapacitated individual. Assuming such a responsibility is not a light decision. The commitment to care for your minor or adult child with special needs can be temporary, until the minor child reaches the age of majority, or permanently, if the child suffers from a chronic condition like autism or multiple sclerosis.


Choosing a guardian involves objective and subjective considerations. Factors such as reliability, stability, sound judgment and values similar to the parents is a good place to start. In addition to becoming the legal representative for the minor child or incapacitated adult, the guardian also serves as an emotional anchor and the minor child’s surrogate parent. Advice and counsel, joys and heartbreaks, rites of passage like admission to college, the birth of your grandchildren, will be among life events the guardian will nurture and support.


Appointing a Family Member


Parents choosing a guardian for their children, often look to family first. Grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins from both sides of the family should be considered. If your children or incapacitated adult child have a relationship with the relative that is positive and mutually important is another consideration. Lastly, think about how many children you have – can one person take them all?


A guardian can be appointed for a minor child or an adult child with developmental, mental, or mental conditions. The main duty of a guardian is to represent the minor or adult child in all things – providing guidance in financial, medical, and emotional matters.


Do Guardians Get Paid?


A guardian who assumes the role of raising minor children or assisting incapacitated adult children does not necessarily receive a monthly stipend for being the guardian. Guardians may receive financial support for the minor children from Social Security, as beneficiaries of a trust, or in financial provisions left by the child’s parents in a will. If a guardian receives money directly for being the guardian separate and apart from the financial support provided for the needs of the child, it often comes as a gift from the parents in a will or a provision in trust or guardianship documents that specifically provide for such a payment. This is separate and apart from the child’s expenses, which if included in the trust documents, states the rules for reimbursement of the child’s costs, like medical bills and educational expenses.


Guardianships are often accompanied by trusts. A trust is a fiduciary relationship between two parties in which one party, the guardian in this scenario, holds legal title to property or assets for the benefit of a third party, the minor child or incapacitated adult.


For example, in a will, a parent will designate that in the event of his or her death, the proceeds of a life insurance policy are to be paid to the child. If the child is an adult, the cash gift happens as part of the settlement of the estate. If the child is a minor or an incapacitated adult, the parent designates that the money be placed in a trust and managed by a trustee until the child reaches a certain age. If the other parent is alive, no guardianship may be necessary and there will only be a trustee of the trust.


Raising children is expensive. When establishing a trust, some parents often choose a trustee for their child who is a separate person from the guardian they choose for their child. There are reasons why this type of structure may work. A third-party brings an extra level of protection for the administration of trust, ensuring no one runs away with the child’s money, or that the proper expenditures are being made that are appropriate for the child’s development and education.


Speak to a Family Law Lawyer in Bergen County Today


Whether you choose to appoint one or two legal guardians for your minor children or incapacitated adult children, it is important to receive legal advice on how to set up a guardianship in the event of your untimely death.


Need Help Establishing a Guardianship for Your Minor Children or an Incapacitated Adult?


Finding an appropriate guardian for your children in undeniably important. If an immediate family member is not available to assist your children in the event of your death, consider close friends. Our Family Law Lawyers in Bergen County, NJ help families with child support, child custody, guardianship, spousal support, divorce, Medicaid planning, special needs, probate, and veterans’ affairs matters, among others. To request a consultation with a Family Law Lawyer in Bergen County, click here or call (201) 690-1642 today.


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