By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Guardianship Attorney

As guardian of a ward, you are tasked with many different responsibilities by the Surrogate, and the court.  You need to file annual reports with the Surrogate’s Office and account for your ward’s finances, discuss their well-being and any major changes in his or her health.  But what happens when the ward dies?  Your responsibilities change again.

You need to alert the Surrogate’s Office within 30 days of the death of the person, and give their office a copy of the death certificate, which the Surrogate records.  Many people think that after this, their duties as guardian are over.  But under N.J.S.A. 3B:12-64 (b), your obligation to account for the assets of the ward does not terminate upon the death of the incapacitated person.

Your duty per N.J.S.A. 3B:12-63 as guardian requires you to make a final accounting with the court of all of your ward’s assets.  If the ward’s body is unclaimed for five days, N.J.S.A. 3B:12-64 (c) allows you to make funeral arrangements, and pay for the costs of these arrangements, along with any administrative costs incurred to declare your ward dead, from the guardian account.  Note that if you have your ward’s will, you will need to submit that along with the death certificate to the Surrogate’s office, and per N.J.S.A. 3B:12-60, alert the executor or beneficiaries of the estate that you have done this.  You will then need to maintain the estate until a personal representative is appointed, at which point you turn over all funds and properties to this person.

But what if there was no will or a named executor or the administrator has not been appointed by the Surrogate to take care of the estate?  Under N.J.S.A. 3B:12-61, if there is no action to appoint somebody as personal representative of the estate within 40 days of death, you as the guardian may ask the court to confer upon you those powers as personal representative.  You must provide notice to the named executor and beneficiaries of the will or their heirs, and if there is no objection by the executor or beneficiaries, the court can then appoint you to administer your ward’s estate.

Only a court order will formally dissolve your duties as a guardian, even when your ward dies.  When your ward dies, keep the Surrogate up to date on what happens, inform the family the person has died, and be ready to transfer the estate to the executor or administrator, or to handle the financial affairs of the estate on your own.  Once this is done, you will be relieved of your duty to your ward.

To discuss your NJ Guardianship matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.