Parents of adult children with a disability or adult children of an elderly parent may be concerned that their loved one is unable to handle their personal and financial affairs on their own. If a person is incapacitated, guardianship may be sought if no other alternative exists. New Jersey law recognizes two types of guardianship: guardian of the person and guardian of the estate. While the guardian of the person is responsible for care planning for the incapacitated person, the guardian of the estate is responsible for their financial affairs. Since guardianship in New Jersey is viewed as a last resort, it is important to understand when guardianship is not needed.

Today, we will focus on guardianship of the estate. If an incapacitated person has an estate, then it is possible that a guardian will need to be appointed. An estate can include income from earnings, pensions, investments and stocks and bonds, as well as other valuable assets. Managing these assets is a significant responsibility.

However, if the incapacitated person does not have an estate, then assigning a guardian for the estate is not necessary. For example, if the incapacitated person does not have any real property, valuable personal property and if the incapacitated person’s only source of income is Social Security benefits, then they may not have an estate that requires a guardian to oversee it. In these instances, a parent of an adult child with a disability or the adult child of an elderly parent may be able to serve as a representative payee, making guardianship of the estate unnecessary.

It is important to note that even if guardianship of the estate is not necessary, guardianship of the person may still be appropriate. In addition, if the incapacitated person acquires valuable assets in the future, guardianship of the estate can be established at that time. Because appointing a guardian is a legal process, it can help to seek professional guidance before proceeding, to ensure you understand the roles and responsibilities of guardians in New Jersey.