The Administrative Office of the Courts for the State of New Jersey has issued a new directive that will introduce more stringent requirements for certain people seeking to become guardian of another person. These requirements will include a more thorough background check, which is meant to help determine if a guardian is suitable for the responsibility they would be given. Anyone who wants to apply for a guardianship in New Jersey should be aware of these new requirements, and be ready for the additional burdens they will impose.
What is a Guardianship?
A guardianship refers to a legal relationship where one person, known as a guardian, is given legal authority over another person, known as the ward. Unless the Court limits the scope of the guardianship, the guardian has the right to make legal, financial, and medical decisions on behalf of their ward, but in exchange has the duty to ensure they are cared for and to protect their interests. Guardians are appointed by a court to care for someone when they are unable to handle their own personal affairs, such as with children, people with severe mental or developmental disabilities, or elderly people suffering from dementia.
What Are These New Requirements?
The new requirements imposed by the Administrative Office of the Courts, effective for new cases filed on or after May 15, 2021, will require a proposed guardian to comply with a background check process. The scope of the background check varies depending on the proposed guardian’s relationship to the alleged incapacitated person. The full background check process includes:
- Submitting a “Certification of Criminal and Civil Judgment History,” which is a self-disclosure of all criminal history (including past or pending charges) and all civil lawsuits to which they have been a party.
- Submitting to a criminal background check, including fingerprinting, to identify any past or current charges or convictions against the prospective guardian.
- Having a Judiciary systems check used to determine if there are outstanding judgments, including a “Charles Jones” search.
- Consideration by the court of any relevant legal information that arises from this screening process.
The Certification of Criminal and Civil Judgment History must be submitted by any proposed guardian who is an individual person (institutions such as the Office of the Public Guardian are fully exempt). Fingerprinting and a “Charles Jones” search are not automatically required if the proposed guardian is a parent or spouse of an alleged incapacitated person unless the Court decides there are special circumstances that require the full background check. For any other person seeking to become a guardian (such as a child seeking guardianship of an elderly parent), the full background check process is automatically required.
How Will They Affect Prospective Guardians?
Anyone who wants to become a guardian in New Jersey will need to be aware that any prior legal issues, if the court determines them to be relevant adverse history, could impact the assessment about whether someone is qualified to become a legal guardian. However, simply having legal issues or a criminal history will not necessarily exclude you if you wish to become a guardian. It simply means you should get a lawyer with knowledge in guardianship law to help you with your case. If a judge determines you have relevant adverse history, you have a right to be heard and an opportunity to convince the judge that such history should not affect your appointment as guardian, or to challenge the accuracy of any information disclosed in your background checks.
The attorneys at the Law Offices of Hunziker, Jones, and Sweeney understand that the aging population has specific and diverse needs. The firm helps seniors and their families by handling all aspects of elder law including guardianships, end of life planning, asset preservation, Medicaid planning, and trusts and estates issues. If you need to consult on elder law issues, call The Law Offices of Hunziker, Jones & Sweeney at (973) 256-0456 or fill out our contact form for a consultation.