When a family member or loved one is suffering from severe mental illness, it may be necessary to establish guardianship. Obtaining guardianship for individuals with mental health disorders can be complex in part because symptoms may be intermittent, making it difficult to determine whether or not they are competent to care for themselves. The best way to make informed decisions about the well-being of a loved one with mental illness is to consult with an experienced guardianship attorney
At E.A. Goodman, LLC, we provide comprehensive legal services to individuals and families throughout New Jersey regarding guardianships and other estate planning matters. Knowing that obtaining guardianship for mentally ill individuals is a complicated and sensitive issue, we will provide you with compassionate representation and caring personal service.
We understand the laws and procedural rules governing guardianship in New Jersey and the challenges of navigating the mental health system. Rest assured, we will always work in your best interests and make sure your loved one’s rights are protected. Please contact our Morristown office today to learn how we can help.
Defining Mental Illness in New Jersey
In New Jersey, mental illness is defined as “a current, substantial disturbance of thought, mood, perception or orientation which significantly impairs judgment, capacity to control behavior or capacity to recognize reality.” However, mental illness does include alcohol intoxication, a temporary reaction to drug ingestion, organic brain syndrome, or developmental disability, unless it results in the severity of impairment described above.
The Mayo Clinic puts it more simply by defining mental illness as a wide range of disorders that affect an individual’s mood, thinking, or behavior, which include:
- Anxiety disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorders
- Addictive behaviors
While many individuals have mental health issues from time to time, a severe mental illness is far more serious in that it significantly affects a person’s ability to function.
Understanding Guardianships and Mental Illness
Guardianship is a legal process by which the court appoints a competent individual to make healthcare and/or financial decisions on behalf of an incapacitated individual to ensure that his or her needs are met and rights are protected.
State law defines an “incapacitated individual” as one who is impaired by mental illness, physical illness, disability, chronic drug or alcohol addiction, or another disorder to the extent that the individual, referred to as the “ward,” lacks that capability to govern himself/herself or manage his/her affairs.
Depending on the circumstances, it may be necessary to establish guardianship of the person, guardianship of the estate, or both. A guardian of the person handles non-financial matters (e.g. housing, transportation, meals) while a guardian of the estate manages financial matters, such as property, assets, and debts.
Additionally, a guardianship can be general or limited in scope:
- General guardianship (also known as plenary guardianship) is granted by the court if the alleged mentally ill person lacks the capacity to make decisions or care for him-or-herself.
- Limited guardianship is less intrusive and more appropriate if the ward is capable of making some decisions. A guardian is appointed to manage significant legal, financial, residential, educational, vocational, and medical decisions, with limitations imposed by the court
In any event, the New Jersey courts consider guardianship for an individual with mental illness carefully because his or her autonomy and right to self-determination are being taken away. However, guardianship may be necessary when a person cannot care for him/herself due to a mental health disorder.
How E.A. Goodman Law Can Help
If you are considering establishing legal guardianship for a loved one with mental illness, we can help to:
- Determine which type of guardianship is best for your situation
- File a guardianship action in court to have you appointed guardian
- Coordinate evaluations of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals to support your claim
- Represent you in guardianship hearings
Knowing that establishing guardianship for an adult with mental illness can become an emotionally charged, contentious affair, we will help you explore all your options so that you can make informed decisions in the best interests of your loved one.
In some cases, there may be alternatives to guardianship, such as establishing a health care proxy or financial power of attorney, but a healthcare proxy may be of little use if your loved one requires admission to a psychiatric hospital or medical treatment because it can easily be rescinded.
Ultimately, a well-conceived guardianship will interfere with your loved one’s independence as little as possible and enable you to intervene when there are potential issues relating to health, safety, or exploitation.
Your Duties as Guardian for a Loved One With Mental Illness
Once you are appointed guardian, you will have several important responsibilities, including:
- Ensuring your loved one’s medical, physical, and social needs are met
- Authorizing medical care
- Managing property and finances
- Paying bills and filing tax returns
- Applying for government benefits (e.g. Medicaid, Social Security Disability)
In addition, you must submit annual reports to the court detailing the care you have provided for your loved one and confirming that you have properly managed his or her finances. Trust the team at E.A. Goodman Law to stand by you every step of the way so that you can faithfully carry out your duties.
Contact Our Experienced New Jersey Guardianship Attorneys
Obtaining guardianship of an individual with mental illness is difficult because the courts are reluctant to take away a person’s independence. However, establishing guardianship can help to protect the well-being of your loved one and restore order to your family. When you become our client, you will have peace of mind knowing that our dedicated guardianship attorney is on your side. Contact us today to set up an appointment.
EA Goodman Law serves clients with guardianship needs throughout New Jersey including Bergen County, Morris County, Morristown, Somerset County, and Union County.