E.A. Goodman Law, LLC is a premier estate planning practice representing individuals and families throughout New Jersey. We regularly advise clients on guardianships and help to resolve disputes in which a guardian ad litem may be necessary.
When a trust and estate dispute involves individuals who cannot make decisions for themselves, such as incapacitated adults or minor children, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) to protect their interests. Despite the term “guardian,” the GAL does not have custody of the individual and only performs his or her duties for a limited time during the issue before the court.
If you have minor children or are responsible for an incapacitated adult, our experienced estate planning lawyer can advise you about the need for a guardian ad litem. Please contact our office today to schedule a consultation.
What is a guardian ad litem?
A guardian ad litem is an individual appointed by the Surrogate Court who is responsible for representing the interests of an incapacitated adult or a person who is under the age of 18, typically known as a “ward.” A GAL is usually an attorney respected by the court and only serves for a limited time (the Latin term “ad litem” means “for the purposes of the suit”).
Generally, the role of the GAL is to act as an investigator to review estate, trust or guardianship accounts for any irregularities and provide a report to the court. Individuals who may require a GAL include:
- A minor who has a beneficiary interest in an estate
- Any person with a diminished capacity or intellectual disability, including individuals who suffer from traumatic brain injuries, dementia, or are unresponsive or in a coma
- An incarcerated individual who is unable to appear in court and represent him or herself in a probate proceeding
- Individuals with an interest in a Surrogate Court proceeding whose whereabouts is unknown
In short, the GAL’s role is to protect the ward’s interests. If the ward is a minor who is the beneficiary of a trust, for example, the guardian ad litem may request an accounting to ensure the trust assets are being properly managed.
If the ward is a person with diminished capacity, the GAL will conduct an investigation and file a report with the court, which may include a recommendation as to whether a guardian should be appointed. In the event of trust and estate litigation, the GAL can negotiate a court-approved settlement.
What Is the Difference Between a Guardian Ad Litem and a Legal Guardian?
It is easy to confuse a GAL with a legal guardian, but there are important differences. A guardian ad litem is appointed by the court to represent the ward’s interests in a probate proceeding, the administration of a trust, or another legal matter. By contrast, a guardian is designated, either in a will or a guardianship, to manage the affairs of a minor or an incapacitated person on a daily basis.
As an example, if your elderly parent is suffering from dementia, you can petition the court to name you as his or her guardian. The court will hold a hearing and may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent your parent’s interests. If the court names you as guardian, the GAL’s duties end, and your duties as the legal guardian begin.
How E.A. Goodman Law Can Help
At E.A. Goodman Law, we have a well-deserved reputation as trustworthy advocates with the Surrogate Courts in New Jersey. Principal attorney Elga Goodman has been routinely appointed by the court as guardian ad litem to represent a party’s interest in probate and intestacy proceedings and also counsels guardians who are acting on behalf of incapacitated individuals.
Knowing that trust and estate disputes can be complicated and emotionally charged, we will offer you knowledge, compassion, and the personal attention you deserve. It is important to note that the appointment of a guardian ad litem is not always necessary.
In the example mentioned above, a GAL would not be needed if your elderly parent had a well-conceived estate plan supported by a durable power of attorney and an advance directive for healthcare. We regularly prepare essential estate planning documents, including guardianships, and guide clients through probate and estate administration proceedings.
Contact Our Experienced Guardian Ad Litem Attorney
If you have concerns about the well-being and personal affairs of an incapacitated adult or a minor child, you need the informed representation we provide. Whether you are seeking to have a GAL appointed or to be named the guardian of another party, we will take the time to explain your rights and help you navigate the process. Please contact our office today to schedule a consultation.