Glossary of Guardianship Terms

These are some terms used in this site.

Vocabulary words have meaning both in life and in the law. Below I have listed the most frequent terms used in this website and what each word means. The terms are listed in alphabetical order. I am certain this glossary will be of assistance to you in your reading.

  • Advance Directive for Healthcare – A document setting forth an individual’s wishes, specifically regarding medical and end-of-life decisions.
    An advance directive typically appoints someone, known as a healthcare proxy, to make decisions in the event that the person becomes unable to do so.
    Also known as a healthcare power of attorney or living will.
  • Annual Report – Conservator – Every year until the conservatorship is terminated, the conservator most likely will be required to file a Conservator’s Annual Report that describes what has happened to the protected person and their income and assets in the past 12 months. Check Conservatorship Judgement for details and dates of submission.
  • Annual Report – Guardian – Every year until the guardianship is terminated, the guardian must file an Annual report that describes what has happened to the ward and their income and assets in the past 12 months. There are often different annual report forms for an adult or a minor guardianship report.
  • Best Interest Standard – Making a decision based on what you believe to be in the best.
    Standard interest of another person; for example, a guardian making a decision based upon what is believed to be in the best interest of an incapacitated person.
  • Bond – A cash payment or pledge of property that guarantees that a conservator or guardian will fulfill his or her duties.
  • Commissions – Compensation, set by statute, to which an individual, such as a guardian of the estate of an incapacitated person, is entitled.  A guardian of the person is not entitled to commissions.
  • Complaint For Guardianship – The document you file that asks the court to appoint a guardian in a guardianship case or conservator in a conservatorship case.
  • Conservator – A person or institution who the court appoints to handle the financial affairs for another person. The conservator collects and deposits all income, pays all debts and bills, secures all assets, and handles taxes and insurance.
  • Conservatorship – A legal arrangement where the court appoints a person or institution to handle the financial affairs for another person because that person cannot handle these matters.
  • County Surrogate – An elected Constitutional Officer who serves as judge of the Surrogate Surrogate’s Court for uncontested probate and estate matters.  A Surrogate also serves as Deputy Clerk to the Superior Court for the Probate Part, as well as for adoptions in the Family Part.
  • Decisional Capacity – The ability to receive and evaluate information or make or communicate decisions.
  • Delegation of Powers Through a Power of Attorney –  A parent can give someone powers regarding a child’s care, custody or property for a limited period of time. You can specify what powers the person has regarding the child. You cannot delegate the power to consent to the child’s marriage or to the child being adopted. The parent can revoke the delegation of powers at any time. The parent delegating the power cannot affect the rights of the non-signing parent and does not create a guardianship. You do not go to court for a power of attorney.
  • Extraordinary Medical Treatment – The types of medical treatments which Court may consider ‘extraordinary’ requiring a substituted judgment determination includes administering of antipsychotic medication, sterilization, abortion, electroconvulsive therapy, psychosurgery and removal of artificial maintenance of nutrition or hydration.
  • Final Conservatorship Report –  When the conservatorship ends, the conservator must file the Final Conservatorship Report.
  • Final Guardianship Report – When the Guardianship ends, the guardian must file the Final Guardianship Report.
  • Full Guardian: A full guardian is appointed to have total decision-making responsibilities for medical, housing, services, legal, and financial areas for another person called the ward.
  • General Guardianship – A “complete in every respect” type of guardianship in which the guardian is able to exercise all rights and powers of the incapacitated person in terms of the area of responsibility he or she is granted.  Also known as full or plenary guardianship.
  • Guardian – A person who the court appoints to protect the rights and manage the affairs of an incapacitated person or a minor. Children usually only have guardians when neither of their parents are willing or able to care for them. There are guardians with different powers: Full Guardian, Partial or Limited Guardian, Temporary Guardian.
  • Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) – A person appointed by the court to protect the rights of a person during a guardianship proceeding. A party can ask the court to appoint a “guardian ad litem” if the person cannot determine his/her own best interests without assistance (because his/her ability to understand the guardianship proceedings or make decisions about them is impaired). If appointed, the Guardian Ad Litem will help this person determine what is best in his/her legal case. If the person is entirely incapable of making that determination, the guardian ad litem will make it. The Office of Public Guardianship will provide this service at state expense if the court determines that a party cannot afford it or has no eligible person willing to serve.
  • Guardian by Testamentary Appointment – Guardian who is appointed by a Will. An example would be when a parent/guardian of a developmentally disabled child indicates in his or her Will who would be the child’s successor guardian. The successor guardian needs to request a Probate Court hearing to get signed Orders.
  • Guardian of the EstateAn individual appointed by the court to handle the financial affairs of another person who has been legally declared incapacitated.  Unlike a guardian of the person, a guardian of the estate is not responsible for decisions regarding the personal well-being of the protected person. Rather, the guardian of the estate handles assets, income, expenses and liabilities.
  • Guardian of the PersonAn individual appointed by the court to handle the personal affairs of another person who has been legally declared incapacitated.  Unlike a guardian of the estate, a guardian of the person does not manage the financial affairs of the incapacitated person, except that a guardian of the person may serve as representative payee for Social Security benefits.
  • Guardianship – A legal arrangement where the court appoints a person or institution as a guardian to make decisions for an incapacitated person, and/or a child – decisions about housing, medical care, legal issues, financial issues and services. The individual being cared for in the guardianship is called the “Ward”.
  • Guardian Monitoring Program – The New Jersey Judiciary Guardianship Monitoring Program is a statewide court program launched in January 2013 to monitor and support guardians in their handling of the affairs of incapacitated individuals. The program was implemented in all 21 counties as of July 2014.
  • Guardianship Report and Inventory of the Estate – This is a document required to be filed by the guardian with the Surrogate Court within 90 days. This report gives the court a complete picture of the ward’s current finances, income, resources, etc. and what the guardian is going to do to implement the Guardianship Plan.
  • Guardianship Order – This is the court’s order that names the guardian, includes specific findings that supports each grant of authority to the guardian. The order adopts a guardianship plan that states the guardian’s authority to make decisions for the ward including medical care, mental health treatment, housing, finances, education or vocational training.
  • Healthcare Proxy – An individual designated by an advance directive to make medical and end-of-life decisions for the principal (the person who executed the advance directive) if the principal becomes unable to do so.
  • Incapacity – An individual legally declared by the court as unable to govern himself or herself and/or unable to manage his or her affairs.  Also known as a protected person. Formerly referred to as an incompetent or a ward.
  • Incapacitated Person – A person whose ability to receive an evaluate information or to communicate decisions is impaired so that the person cannot provide for their physical health or safety without court-ordered help. Not providing for someone’s own physical health or safety, includes health care, food, shelter, clothing, personal hygiene, and protection. Before appointing a guardian for a ward, the court must find that the ward is an “incapacitated person.”
  • Informed Consent – An individual’s agreement to a particular course of action based on a full disclosure of facts needed to make the decision intelligently.
  • Interested Parties – A person or agency that has an involvement with the incapacitated person who is the subject of the guardianship. Interested parties (or parties in interest) are typically the same individuals entitled to notice of the initial application for guardianship – i.e., the incapacitated person’s spouse, parent, adult child, etc.
  • Judgment – The official decision of a court in a case.  For purposes of this guide, Judgment refers to the Judgment of Incapacity and Guardian Appointment, also known as the Judgment of Incapacity and Order Appointing Guardian.
  • Least Restrictive Alternative – A mechanism, course of action, or environment that allows the respondent to live, learn, and work in a setting that places as few limits as possible on the respondent’s rights and personal freedoms as appropriate to meet their needs.
  • Letters of Conservatorship – Document from the court that sets forth the conservator’s powers and specific limitations. The conservator presents the Letters when needed to show what their powers are, such as when dealing with financial issues.
  • Letters of Guardianship – Document from the court that states the guardian’s powers and whether there are any specific limitations. The guardian presents the Letters when needed to show what their powers are, such as when dealing with financial issues, medical providers, or any third party.
  • Limited Conservator – The court can appoint someone as conservator who has only certain powers or for a limited number of transactions.
  • Limited Guardianship – A less intrusive, more individualized, type of guardianship in which a guardian is appointed with authority as to some – but not all – areas.  A limited guardianship is established based upon a court’s finding that the person alleged to be incapacitated lacks the capacity to do some, but not all, of the tasks necessary to care for himself or herself.
  • Office of Public Guardian for Elderly Adults – The Office of Public Guardian provides legal advocacy and guardianship and conservatorship services to vulnerable N.J. residents. OPA provides public guardianship for incapacitated adults, advocacy for victims of elder fraud, and attorney services for respondents in adult guardianship proceedings. OPA is appointed as guardian or conservator for an individual only if a family member, friend, or private entity is not able to do so. OPA employs staff public guardians throughout several locations in the state. Public guardians in these areas assist wards in living in communities around the state.
  • Partial or Limited Guardian – A person who the court appoints as guardian whose rights, powers, and duties are less than full guardianship and are specified by court order. In these situations, the person under the partial guardianship can perform some, but not all the functions necessary to care for himself/herself and alternatives to guardianship cannot provide for the person’s needs.
  • Personal Representative – The person appointed by the court to handle the entire probate process after someone dies, also called an executor.
  • Plaintiff or Petitioner – The Plaintiff/Petitioner is the person who signs the document called a Complaint for Guardianship or conservatorship that asks the court to appoint a guardian or conservator.
  • Power of Attorney – A document in which you choose to give another person (your agent) the right to make specific decisions for you. You can grant your agent broad powers to do almost anything you could do for yourself (general power of attorney) or you can choose the powers you want to give an agent (specific power of attorney). You can choose to appoint an agent immediately or you can make the appointment effective only if you become disabled. You can also state that the appointment will be revoked upon your incapacity. There is no court oversight over the power of attorney.
  • Private Professional Guardian or Conservator – Persons (including companies and other organizations) who engage in the business of providing guardian or conservator services. They charge fees for their services, usually on an hourly basis.
  • Protected Person – Another term for an incapacitated person, that is, an individual legally declared by the court as unable to govern himself or herself and/or unable to manage his or her affairs.  Formerly referred to as an incompetent or a ward.
  • Public Guardian – A public guardian is a state employee who the court can appoint as guardian or conservator if no private person or agency is able or available to be the guardian or conservator. The Office of Public Guardian for the Elderly provides public guardian services and charges on a sliding scale basis.
  • Qualification – A process conducted before the County Surrogate, or Surrogate’s staff, following entry of a Judgment.  As part of qualification, the person appointed as guardian affirms his or her willingness to fulfill the duties of a guardian.
  • Report of Guardian Cover Page – A general information form required to be filed along with any other guardianship reporting form(s). This form may be signed by all co-guardians of the person, or by all co-guardians of the estate. The Report of Guardian Cover page is posted on the Judiciary website (search for Report of Guardian Cover page).
  • Report of Well-Being – A form developed and approved for use by a guardian of the person required to report as to the well-being of the incapacitated person. The Report of Well-Being is available on the Judiciary website (search for Report of Well-Being).
  • Representative Payee – A representative payee is an individual or organization that receives Social Security and/or SSI payments for someone who cannot manage his/her money. Payees should use the funds for the current and foreseeable needs of the beneficiary and save any remaining funds for the beneficiary’s future use.
  • Respondent – In a guardianship case, is the person who is alleged to be incapacitated and in need of a guardian is sometimes called the “respondent”. (Note: After a guardian is appointed, the “respondent” is called a “ward”.) In a conservatorship case, the respondent is the person who is alleged to need a conservator to help manage money and property. (Note: After a conservator is appointed, the “respondent” is sometimes called a “protected person”.)
  • Service – Delivery of papers in a legally appropriate way.  For example, notice of an application for appointment of a guardian is served upon the alleged incapacitated person by personal service, meaning that copies of the papers are personally delivered. For more information, see New Jersey Rules of Court (Rule 1:5) at (search for Rules of Court).
  • Short Certificates – Short forms of the Letters of Guardianship, stating that by Judgment of a particular date, the guardian was appointed with authority of the person and/or estate of the named incapacitated person.
    A short certificate will state that as of the date it was issued, the guardianship remains in effect. Additional short certificates may be purchased by a guardian, from the Surrogate, for $5.00 each as long as the guardianship remains in effect. Unlike the original Letters of Guardianship, short certificates should be provided to doctors, care facilities, and other institutions that require proof of a guardian’s authority.
  • Substituted Judgment – A substituted judgment standard in applied by the court when a guardian seeks the court’s permission for extraordinary treatment. ‘Substitute Judgment’ means the Court substitutes itself for the incapacitated person and attempts to determine that person’s actual interests and preferences, and how he or she would make the decision regarding antipsychotic medication if competent. The Court must take into account all of the factors and concerns that likely make up the particular person’s decision-making, including the following: the person’s expressed preferences regarding treatment, the person’s religious convictions, the impact of the decision on the person’s family, the probability of adverse side effects, and the prognosis for the person with and without treatment.
  • Superior Court Judge – For purposes of guardianships, the judge of the Superior Court, Probate Part, who decides if the alleged incapacitated person is in fact incapacitated and in need of a guardian.  The Superior Court judge makes the substantive decisions about the guardianship, including the determination of capacity and the choice of guardian. The Superior Court judge conducts any hearing(s) and signs the Judgment.
  • Surrogate’s Court – A county office headed by the County Surrogate that may be in the same location as the Superior Court or may be in a different location.  Probate Part actions are filed with the Surrogate’s office, including actions to appoint a guardian. It is also where the guardian goes to qualify after entry of the Judgment.
  • Surety Bond – A bond endorsed by the guardian as well as a corporate or personal surety. The guarantor(s) are liable to the respondent’s estate for any financial wrongdoing by the guardian.
  • Temporary Conservator – Conservator whom the court appoints on a temporary basis because the respondent is not capable of protecting his or her funds or property against being wasted or used up, or getting funds that are needed for the immediate support, case, and welfare of the respondent or his/her decedents. If the court appoints a temporary conservator during the conservatorship case, the temporary conservatorship expires when the court appoints a full or partial conservator, or when the petition for a conservator is dismissed.
  • Temporary Guardian – A guardian the court appoints on a temporary basis in an emergency for an immediate or time-limited period. An example would be an emergency appointment for an immediate life-threatening medical decision or a six-month period to assist with a specific decision.

Have questions about a Guardianship? If so, call our office today. Ask for Mr. Niemann to personally discuss your questions and individual situation toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or e-mail him at



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

Guardianship Attorney serving these New Jersey Counties:

Monmouth County, Ocean County, Essex County, Cape May County, Camden County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Bergen County, Morris County, Burlington County, Union County, Somerset County, Hudson County, Passaic County