When a person turns 18, they reach the legal age of majority, meaning that a person’s parents can no longer make legal decisions for them. However, many adults suffer from developmental disabilities and may require help with these decisions. This person is called a legal guardian.

Families must choose a guardian carefully. This process is often private, but New Jersey provides many helpful resources for those in need. The Bureau of Guardianship Services (BGS) uses a detailed selection process that ensures safety and confidence for a ward in need.

The six-step process to determine a guardian

The BGS is a division of New Jersey’s Department of Human Services and seeks to provide competent guardians to those in need. The BGS primarily serves people processed through the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), but anyone in need of a guardian may use their services. Their six-step process carefully evaluates suggested guardians to ensure success, comfort and quality of life for their wards:

  1. Identifying the guardian(s): Working with the individual’s family, BGS will build a list of potential guardian candidates. BGS will gauge the interest of the parents, siblings, spouse, and other immediate family members. BGS may also explore co-guardianship options.
  2. Psychological evaluation: The potential ward will then meet with a licensed psychologist to measure their need. The psychologist determines the type of guardianship, general or limited. Limited guardianship specifies the areas the guardian makes legal decisions, like housing or educational decisions.
  3. Court recommendation: BGS then sends a Certificate of Acceptance of Guardianship form to the proposed guardian(s). Candidates must fill these out, get them notarized and return them to the court.
  4. Court date: BGS files the paperwork with the county court. The court schedules a date with all interested parties within six months of receiving the paperwork. A Public Advocate will interview the potential ward, submitting their report and recommendation for guardianship.
  5. Hearing: If the Pubic Advocate agrees with the determination, no hearing is necessary. If the advocate opposes the ruling, the court will hold a hearing. Hearings occur in front of a judge who considers arguments for and issues a ruling.
  6. Court judgment: The court will then appoint or deny a guardian, sending Letters of Guardianship to the ward and their family.

Seek legal counsel

Those looking to determine a legal guardian for a loved one can reach out to a local lawyer familiar with New Jersey’s guardianship laws. An attorney can manage the guardianship process outside of the BGS and draft the necessary paperwork.