How do I become a legal guardian in New Jersey?
October 24, 2011 2:37 PM   Subscribe

How do I petition the court to become my little brother's legal guardian in New Jersey? A little background: My mother has a terminal disease, which may also cause her to be mentally incapacitated at some point (thanks in advance for the condolences). My little brother is 15 and lives at home with my mom. My mom has made it clear to myself and people around her that she wants me to become his guardian after she dies. But, I have had little luck figuring out the actual legal process for initiating the process.

So far, I've found out that there is something called "standby guardianship" which seems like that's the thing I want. I know YANAL, but money is tight and I don't want to have to put out money for a lawyer if this is something I can do myself without too much trouble. If I'm reading everything right, it seems like I can just have my mom and my brother's dad (who is not my dad and does not have custody) write their intention to appoint me standby guardian and get it signed and witnessed. But, then I think have to petition the court to become guardian. I guess it's the petitioning part I don't understand how to do and I need to know if there's a form I have to fill out or something to get that started. If it helps my family is in Cape May County.
posted by runcibleshaw to Law & Government (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This might be a reach, but if it's worth calling 211. If I were you, I'd put my case more urgently that you have here. They'll have info for low cost legal help in your area.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:38 PM on October 24, 2011

I'm not familiar with 211. What is that?
posted by runcibleshaw at 2:49 PM on October 24, 2011 (but I'd call, rather than using the usually-clunky search functions.)

It's an information clearing house, basically. It's advertised as helping people find homeless shelters, etc, but around here anyway, they answer questions about EVERYthing, and can hook you up with resources you didn't even know existed.

You just dial it, like you would 911.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:53 PM on October 24, 2011

Is your mother receiving treatment in a hospital right now? The hospital may be able to call in a social worker to help here.
posted by deadmessenger at 3:40 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite] is a good resource for finding low- or no-cost legal assistance. It recommends this site if you live in New Jersey, which offers a hotline, 1-888-576-5529, and a referral page, which includes this:

Cape May County Bar Association
Lawyer Referral Service
Rt. 9, Main Street, PO Box 425
Cape May Court House, NJ 08210
609-463-0313; Fax 609-463-1656

I'd call both numbers tomorrow and ask for help finding a lawyer who specializes in guardianship issues *and* who will offer a free first consultation (over the phone or in person) to help you sort out what you need to do.
posted by mediareport at 3:48 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

You absolutely need professional advice to do this right. We're talking about a vitally important decision here in which things can become incredibly heated if something goes wrong. Your mother, unfortunately, will not be able to make her wishes any more clear after she passes away, so everything needs to be put in writing and designated properly now. Because as much as it sucks to deal with this and get a lawyer now, it will suck enormously more to do it later. If you try to do it yourself, mistakes might get straightened out in the end, but it is going to cause you, and especially your brother, an enormous amount of unnecessary stress at an already very difficult time.

Lawyers are good at thinking about worst case scenarios, which is important in this case. What if your brother's dad changes his mind? What if another relative comes out of the woodwork? What if someone just has it in for you? These circumstances may be unlikely in your case, but having everyone's wishes documented properly is really important in case something like this comes up later. That's doubly true if your mother's competence is ever in question.

I would second deadmessenger's advice to see if there is a social worker available to help get you started, though you'll probably need an attorney in the end to get the paperwork in order. The hospital and/or hospice should be able to hook you up with one. (Are you using a hospice service? Do consider it.)

I'd go the social worker route, see what you can learn, and ultimately find a family law practitioner who handles guardianship matters if that proves to be necessary.

My condolences and best of luck to you and your family.
posted by zachlipton at 4:07 PM on October 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

You need to talk to a lawyer. You may not need to retain a lawyer, but you need to talk to a lawyer to get a sense of what you're getting into and what you need to do.

Either set up a few free consultations to get a sense of how to get started or pay a lawyer for an hour of their time to find out what you need to file and how to know if you really need a lawyer.

This is not the kind of thing that you want to screw up.

If you can get a social worker to talk you through it, that may be enough, but you should really just pay for a consultation.
posted by freshwater at 5:42 PM on October 24, 2011

I am not saying that you should take what is said in a free consultation and run with it. But if you go to two free consultations and both lawyers say the same thing, you can probably go from there.
posted by freshwater at 5:44 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with contacting the social work department where your mother is receiving treatment. They will be well versed in what needs to happen and will be able to point you to the appropriate resources in your area.
posted by goggie at 6:20 PM on October 24, 2011

I will definitely be calling to get a free consultation. I just thought someone might now what the process is to do it pro se. My mother currently has hospice care and she does have a social worker, but the social worker didn't seem to have any information on the guardianship thing.
posted by runcibleshaw at 8:21 PM on October 24, 2011

*might know
posted by runcibleshaw at 8:27 PM on October 24, 2011

Not all lawyers will do a free first consult, but many will. Call around until you find one who does.
posted by mediareport at 8:37 PM on October 24, 2011

Or two, as freshwater points out above.
posted by mediareport at 8:39 PM on October 24, 2011

When you do get to talk to a lawyer, also ask about a power of attorney. That would give you authorization to act on your mother's behalf, such as if she becomes incapacitated while still alive.
posted by maurreen at 10:41 PM on October 24, 2011

Does your brother's father pay childcsupport to your mom? You should also ask lawyer if he can and should continue that to you until bro turns 18 or 21
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:23 AM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

My brother's dad does pay child support. That's a good thing to ask about too.
posted by runcibleshaw at 9:49 AM on October 25, 2011

Relatedly, peek at the book A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. It's written by someone who did this, though his little brother was younger than yours.
posted by westerly at 11:57 AM on October 25, 2011

« Older How is the Vitamin B12 supplement made?   |   This is kind of like that time I took a coupon... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.