(Contested and uncontested)
Guardianship is a legal arrangement where a Court gives a person the legal right to make decisions for another person who is unable to make decisions for themselves. Depending on the type of guardianship asked for and the person over whom guardianship is requested, the case is handled by the Family Court, the Supreme Court or the Surrogate’s Court. Article 81 Proceedings are typically handled in Supreme Court. Article 17 and 17A proceedings are typically handled in Surrogate’s Court.
Guardianship is discussed in greater detail in the pages that follow. My goal is to simplify your life and assist you with your endeavors. Please feel free to contact me at your convenience to discuss further.
Do you, or somebody you know, need a guardian?
A guardian may be necessary if you either (i) recognize that you need help with decision making and prefer judicial oversight over the person who will make your decisions; or (ii) you, or somebody you know is no longer able to make decisions for themselves, or maybe was never able to make decisions for themselves, and you, or that person is no longer able to execute Advance Directives to appoint somebody to make decisions for you/them.
What types of legal guardianship options are there?
There are three types of guardianships.
- Guardianship of an incapacitated adult pursuant to Article 81 of the Mental Hygiene Law
- Guardianship of a Minor pursuant to Article 17 of the SCPA
- Guardianship of an intellectually or developmentally disabled individual pursuant to Article 17A of the SCPA
When will an Article 81 Guardian be appointed?
Mental Hygiene Law 81.02 sets forth the standard for the appointment of a guardian. The statute provides that the Court should appoint a guardian for an individual when the appointment is necessary to provide for the personal needs and property management of the Person AND either (i) the person consents to the appointment OR (ii) the person is shown to be incapacitated by clear and convincing evidence.
Who may Commence a Guardianship Proceeding?
The person who is alleged to be incapacitated is known as the AIP. Pursuant to MHL 81.06, a guardianship proceeding can be commenced by:
- the person alleged to be incapacitated; or
- the next of kin of the AIP (eg: spouse, child, parent, sibling); or
- an executor or administrator when the AIP is the beneficiary of an estate; or
- a trustee of a trust when the AIP is the beneficiary of a trust; or
- a person with whom the AIP resides; or
- a person otherwise concerned with the welfare of the AIP; or
- a facility where the AIP is either a patient or a resident.
How is a Guardianship Commenced?
The proceeding is initiated by filing an Order to Show Cause and Verified Petition with the Supreme Court in the County where the AIP resides. The Order to Show Cause will recite the powers requested, have spaces for the Judge to appoint a Court Evaluator, and if necessary, a temporary guardian and an attorney for the AIP. The Order to Show Cause will also set forth the date and time of the hearing and the powers that are requested. The Verified Petition typically sets forth the AIP’s functional limitations and the reasons that the Petitioner believes that a Guardian is necessary. After the Judge signs the Order to Show Cause, the appropriate papers have to be distributed among the various parties.
Who Receives a Copy of the Guardianship Papers?
The AIP is personally served with a copy of all of the papers. The Court Evaluator gets a copy of the papers. If the Court appoints an attorney for the AIP, then the attorney for the AIP receives a copy of all of the papers as well. The Petitioner, Court Evaluator, AIP, and attorney for the AIP are the only “parties” to the proceedings. The AIP’s family members and concerned relatives are “interested persons” but are not necessarily parties and are not immediately entitled to a full set of all of the papers. These “interested persons” only receive a Notice of Proceeding and a copy of the Order to Show Cause. In order to receive a full copy of the petition, these “interested persons” must typically appear in the proceeding and file a cross-petition seeking to be appointed guardian or seek other relief.
What Happens at a Guardianship Hearing?
A guardianship proceeding can be contested or uncontested. Regardless of whether the hearing is contested or uncontested, the Petitioner has the burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that the AIP needs a Guardian. The Petitioner usually goes first and present his case in chief. This may mean obtaining testimony from the Petitioner, the AIP’s social worker, the AIP’s friends, neighbors, and other family members.
If Counsel for the AIP has been appointed, then Counsel for the AIP will have an opportunity to ask questions.
After the Petitioner rests, if the petition is uncontested, then the Judge will typically ask the Court Evaluator to testify as to the Court Evaluator’s observations. The Court Evaluator has probably met with all of the parties prior to the parties appearing in Court, and typically is able to render an opinion and recommendations about the situation, including who should be the guardian. (If the hearing is contested, then the Court Evaluator will typically not speak until after the Cross-Petitioner has had an opportunity to present his side of the story.)
The interesting thing about Article 81 guardianship is that testimony of the AIP’s medical professional and treating physician is neither admissible nor required. This is rooted in the notion that Article 81 incapacity is based upon functional limitation and not on the reports of the AIP’s medical team. In addition, allowing the AIP’s medical team to testify raises issues about physician-patient privilege. That being said, independent medical testimony is permissible.
After all sides have presented their cases, then the Judge will set forth their findings on the record. The Judge will then ask that a party (usually the Petitioner) settle the final Order and Judgment. The person settling the Order on Notice should then get the transcript from the Court Reporter and should prepare a notice of settlement, with proposed Order and Judgment. If the Petitioner wants the Court to award fees from the funds of the Alleged Incapacitated Person, then the Petitioner should also submit his Affirmation of Legal Services to the Court.
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