When the natural parent of a minor child dies, it is necessary for a guardian to be appointed. In New Jersey, the surviving parent has statutory priority to become the guardian. Sometimes there is no other parent. What happens? There is a race to the court house among the next of kin, and then litigation among the competing interested parties, who may be relatives on either side to this child, In some cases, the most interested party may not even be a blood relative but has a long-standing relationship to the child.
By signing a Last Will and Testament that designates the successor guardian, you may be able to avoid this litigation by creating a preference for your chosen person. There may still be a need for a hearing on notice to the other interested parties (typically the next of kin), but your designated testamentary guardian will have a preference. If there is any opposition, a Guardian ad Litem will be appointed by the court to investigate the facts, background and all relevant information so as to make a recommendation to the Judge on what would be in the best interests of the child. Above all, it is always the child’s best interests that will be primary.
Including a guardianship provision in your Will enables you to exercise some measure of control over what happens after your demise and whether your child will be raised in a manner consistent with your values. If you are the court-appointed guardian for your adult child or other adult person who has been determined to be incapacitated, you can also designate your successor guardian in your Will. Again, interested parties will have to be given notice and there will be a hearing if necessary, but at least the person you select will have certain preference as long as the appointment wouldn’t be contrary to the best interests of the incapacitated person.
Call us to discuss your estate planning needs and all guardianship issues … 732-382-6070