Alternatives to a NJ Guardianship

Because a guardianship involves a profound loss of freedom and dignity, state laws require that such arrangements be imposed only when less restrictive alternatives have been proven to be ineffective. You may suspect a loved one is starting to fail, or possibly elder abuse is taking place but what can you do?  Anything short of filing for guardianship?  The answer is a definite “yes”! Certain preventive measures may be appropriate to minimize the chances that an elderly person will become a dangerous risk to himself/herself or a victim of financial and physical exploitation.

A Power of Attorney, Also Known as Durable Power of Attorney (POA)

A power of attorney is the grant of legal rights and powers by a person (called the “principal”) to another (the “agent” or “attorney-in-fact”). The attorney-in-fact stands in the shoes of the principal and acts for him or her on financial, business, health care decisions and/or personal matters. In most cases, even when the power of attorney is effective immediately upon signature, the principal doesn’t intend for it to be used unless and until he or she becomes incapacitated. A power of attorney is the most efficient, effective and least costly alternative to a court sanctioned guardianship. Fredrick P. Niemann, an attorney of 40+ years often advises his clients to have a comprehensive power of attorney prepared which addresses not only financial issues, but such seldom thought of issues such as life care planning, personal decision planning, medical and health care planning and long term care planning to preserve and protect a lifetime of savings and income from the skyrocketing costs of institutional and home based care.

Did you know that just because you are a husband and wife or a parent and adult child, the law does not delegate legal decision making in favor of a spouse or child in the absence of a written power of attorney, guardianship or conservatorship. It’s a shock to clients when I tell them they can’t legally make decisions for their sick spouse or adult incapacitated child. Without a well written POA, we must take extraordinary steps to solve the problem by a legal filing with the Superior Court known as guardianship which can be avoided by a qualified and comprehensive legal document called a Durable Power of Attorney (POA).

You should recommend to an individual that he/she execute a new power of attorney (POA) appointing a reliable relative or friend as agent, designate a trusted person to serve as representative payee to handle the person’s Social Security or other public benefit pension fund(s), or establish a trust if the client has significant assets. Because there are few checks and balances built into the representative payee system at Social Security, selection of a representative payee should be made with great care. If a power of attorney is drafted, and when appropriate, recommend that provisions to minimize the chances of financial and other forms of exploitation, such as limiting the amount of money that can be transferred by the agent, allowing transfers of money only into a trust or an account that benefits the elderly person alone, and require regular written accountings related to documentation for transactions made under the POA, or require that a financial monitor be appointed and notified before a significant transaction is completed.

After exploitation has occurred, your options are limited.  When appropriate, taking the above actions may help to minimize further exploitation.  You may want to consider filing criminal charges or civil proceedings against the perpetrator of the exploitation.  Read our dedicated page entitled NJ Laws That Protect Against Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation. Theft is not limited to robbing a bank at gun point.

Learn the Alternatives to Guardianship in New Jersey

Representative or Protective Payee

This is a person appointed to manage Social Security, Veterans’ Administration, Railroad Retirement, public assistance or other state or federal benefits or entitlement program payments on behalf of an individual. The representative or protective payee acts much like an attorney-in-fact, but for the limited purpose of a program.


Protecting A Person’s Finances and $$$ With Filing For Guardianship

In some states like New Jersey, a legal proceeding to protect the finances of an adult is called a “conservatorship.” Like a guardianship, a conservatorship is a court-supervised arrangement for a person who cannot handle his or her own final affairs (called the “conservatee”). The person appointed to oversee the affairs of another is called the “conservator.”

A conservatorship can only address finances the “estate” (meaning the conservatee’s financial matters). In New Jersey, it does not cover the “person” (meaning the conservatee’s physical well-being), often referred to as a “conservatorship of the person”.

A conservatorship proceeding must be voluntary, where the person needing assistance (called the “conservatee”) petitions the state court with jurisdiction to appoint a specific person (the “conservator”) to manage his or her affairs.

If the proceeding becomes involuntary, meaning disputed or contested and the proposed conservatee opposes having someone appointed to oversee his or her affairs, then an involuntary guardianship is required. When the proceeding is involuntary, it goes before a judge for a trial to determine if the proposed conservatee has the capacity to handle his or her own financial affairs.

Creation of a Revocable Trust to Protect a Vulnerable Person

A revocable or “living” trust can also be set up to protect a person’s assets and savings, with the assistance of  a relative, friend or financial institution serving as trustee. It is also possible for the older person to be co-trustee of his or her own trust with another individual who will take over or assist in the duties of trustee should the aging person become incapacitated.

Moving money to a protective trust makes a lot of sense. It’s a secure way to manage and protect a person’s savings and income.

Learn the Protective Actions You Can Take to Prevent or Minimize Elder Abuse and Exploitation


There is a seldom used but potentially effective alternative to guardianship which can address elder financial exploitation faster and with less focus on the legal competency of the victim.  Guardianship requires proof that the abused person is incapacitated, meaning not in their right mind.  A protective proceeding does not.  What must be demonstrated is that the elderly person is subject to the influence of a predator (family member, “friend”, caregiver, spouse, etc.) is emotionally or psychologically irrational and is being or may soon become exploited and, therefore, needs protection.  Filing such a legal action does not require two doctors’ reports, medical proof and adherence to all the formalities of a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding.  But it does require examples (proof) of exploitation and/or abuse that warrants a court’s protective order.

Power of the Court to Order a Protective Arrangement

The statutory reference to protective arrangements can be found at N.J.S.A. 3B:12-1.  The law states:

“If it is established that a minor, an incapacitated person or an alleged incapacitated person or a person not yet in being has property or an interest therein which may be wasted or dissipated or that a basis exists for affecting the property or interest and affairs of a minor, an incapacitated person or an alleged incapacitated person or person not yet in being, or that funds are needed for the support, care and welfare of the minor, incapacitated person or alleged incapacitated person or those entitled to be supported by him, the court may, [subject to the appointment of a guardian ad litem and upon notice to the guardian ad litem], without appointing a guardian of the estate, authorize, direct or ratify any single or more than one transaction necessary or desirable to achieve any security, service, care or protective arrangement meeting the foreseeable needs of the minor, incapacitated person or alleged incapacitated person or those dependent upon him.”

Yes, that is the exact text from the statute.  It is quite a mouthful, isn’t it?

This statute clarifies the court’s authority to address the immediate needs of an (alleged) incapacitated person.  It establishes procedures for the appointment of a protective guardian, a limited guardian of the person, estate or of both, a special guardian or a temporary pendent lite guardian able to act on behalf of the incapacitated person with regard to his medical, financial, educational, legal or vocational needs.  It also specifically sets forth the powers and duties of the guardian, when a bond must be furnished by a guardian and when reasonable compensation for services should be granted to a guardian.

Protective actions can be quite effective.  It gets you into court quickly, and it often intimidates and immediately stops predators from further stealing.  If you’re interested in discussing this option, I welcome you to call me toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email me at

Office of the Public Guardian and Adult Protective Services

An adult guardianship may be desirable or necessary for a victim who has lost capacity.  New Jersey provides for a “public guardianship,” that is, court appointment of a public official or agency to serve as guardian of an incompetent person, usually when no private person or agency is available or willing to assume this responsibility.  You may find that a public guardianship is the only route available to provide ongoing assistance if or when you are unable to maintain continued involvement or there are insufficient assets to pay for a professional guardian.

A guardian can be authorized to make legal, financial and health care decisions for the ward.  Depending on the terms of the guardianship, the guardian may be given decision-making power over only those areas in which the incapacitated person is unable to make responsible decisions.  This is called a limited guardianship.  Especially important is the appointment of a guardian of the property which gives the guardian powers over the person’s finances including banking, social security, veteran’s benefits, paying bills, borrowing or loaning money and whatever to buy or sell real estate and stock accounts.


When an elderly person is a victim of domestic violence, the individual should consult New Jersey’s domestic violence laws see page NJ laws on Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation and Domestic Violence in New Jersey. It may be possible to obtain a temporary restraining order or domestic violence injunction, or to commence a separate maintenance or divorce proceeding, depending upon the elderly person’s wishes.

Fredrick P. Niemann Esq.

Contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. to discuss the many alternatives to guardianship under NJ law.  You’ll find him easy to talk to and very understanding of the day-to-day issues you are confronting. Call him toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or e-mail him at

He welcomes your calls and inquiries and you’ll find him very approachable and easy to talk to.


Written by Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a New Jersey Guardianship Attorney