If New Jersey residents fail to make a plan regarding the possibility of becoming incapacitated, they are putting themselves in very vulnerable positions. Without the proper legal documents in place, they could become the center of contested guardianships that, let's face it, can cause a lot of family problems. This week, this column will briefly discuss guardianships and what one can do to avoid becoming the ward of one.
When a person is no longer able to physically or mentally care for him or herself, a guardian may be appointed to help them. The guardian may not be charged with physically caring for a ward, but he or she will have the power to make medical and financial decisions for the person placed in the guardian's care. It is a significant role, one that comes with a lot of power and responsibility, and unfortunately, the ward usually has no say in who should be named as guardian.
The state cannot assign a guardian over someone who has medical directives and a durable power of attorney in place. In other words, these documents offer protection. Medical directives give details about what medical treatments one finds acceptable in the event of incapacitation. A durable power of attorney allows a person to name their own personal representative for medical and financial concerns.
So, avoiding guardianships and contested guardianships is possible by taking the time to do a little personal planning now. It is impossible to know if or when incapacitation will strike, but it is simply better to be prepared in the event that it does so one has a voice in the matter. Those in New Jersey who wish to put the proper protections in place can turn to an experienced estate planning attorney for assistance.