Thinking about the unthinkable: Who will you name guardian in your will?

Guardianships in Union County NJ

Considerations When  Choosing a Guardian for your Child

While preparing your last wishes in a Will can be difficult, thinking about who should raise your minor children if you pass away is heartbreaking—and necessary.

Children are a gift and a big responsibility for parents. Part of that responsibility is ensuring minor children are cared for should you, and their other parent, become disabled or die. Choosing a guardian for your child requires an understanding of your parenting style and the parenting style of others, among other concerns.

Your estate plan designates and defines who you choose to care for your children should you pass away. Our attorneys help families work through this difficult decision and draft documents to clarify their wishes in order to avoid unnecessary legal proceedings and expense.

When you are expecting a child, or if you already have young children, think about the following when choosing a potential guardian:

  • Parenting beliefs: Most parents are wise not to question the parenting style of others, but when choosing a guardian for your children, questions should be asked. For many parents, the habits and parenting style of a family member or close friend are already known. Given the need to ensure your children are raised as you would have done, a discussion about how your potential choice of guardian feels about your children and how they might parent them is important.
  • Capability: Is your choice of guardian capable?  While many people might appoint their own parents as guardians, age, activity level or even disability might suggest otherwise.  My parents actually asked me NOT to name them as guardians for this exact reason.  If you’re thinking about your parents then ask them.
  • Your children: Do your children have a special relationship with a particular relative or friend?  A positive existing connection can help a parenting relationship if something happened to you.
  • Geography: If you have multiple candidates for guardian, does one reside where you might like your children to grow up?   Keep in mind, a move away from a home state or area could cause significant stress to a child who has already lost their parents.

When you have candidates in mind to act as guardian for your children, your estate plan must be written to protect your choice. In New Jersey, courts give weight to guardians named by parents in their Will. Your estate plan should name a guardian in the event of your death or disablement. Property, insurance proceeds and other assets can be protected through a trust for use by your elected guardian—and provide an inheritance for your children when they are older.

Making arrangements for your minor children if you are disabled or pass away protects them and gives you peace of mind. When you have questions about guardianship issues in Hunterdon County or Union County, speak with a skilled estate planning law firm.

Guardianships: What Happens if I Become Incapacitated?

New Jersey Guardianship

Guardianships: What Happens if I Become Incapacitated?

The day may come when you need someone else to make physical and financial decisions on your behalf. Are you ready?

Most people take daily life for granted. Going to the bank, shopping, work or cooking for yourself and family are routine, everyday tasks. For anyone, accident or sudden illness can end that normal routine in a heartbeat. While parents are responsible for children under 18, adults who are disabled may need the help of a guardian.

As we discussed earlier, a Power of Attorney is an essential document for anyone over 18. The purpose of a Power of Attorney, as part of an estate plan, is to ensure that you choose a person or persons to make decisions for you should you become incapacitated and unable to help yourself.

With an estate plan and a comprehensive executed Power of Attorney for healthcare and financial decisions, adults are prepared if they become incapacitated by accident or by time. When a Power of Attorney is not in place, a guardian may be needed.

What is a guardian?

The state of New Jersey defines a guardian as “a person or agency appointed by a court to act on behalf of an individual.” A guardian is appointed for minor children and for adults who do not have the capacity to make important decisions about their care and finances. The two levels of guardians in New Jersey include:

*        General guardianship: A general guardian is appointed for individuals incapable of making any meaningful decisions.

*        Limited guardianship: Sometimes an individual remains capable of making some, but not all decisions. Rather than relieve an adult of their authority to make all their own decisions, care is taken to limit the authority of a guardian to just those areas where help is needed.

When a loved one is incapacitated, and there are no documents in place assigning agency to a family member or trusted friend, a family may seek the appointment of a guardian to provide needed care and protection. The legal process to appoint a guardian involves an evaluation by two licensed physicians of the physical and mental capacity of the allegedly incapacitated person, their preparation of physician affidavits, and the initiation of a court action for the appointment of guardian. The two types of guardians include:

  • Guardian of a person: The guardian of a person makes medical, residential and other decisions to ensure the physical well-being of the individual.
  • Guardian of property: A guardian of property manages property and assets and makes financial decisions to preserve the economic well-being of an incapacitated person.

A skillfully prepared estate plan usually eliminates the need for an expensive and intrusive legal guardianship proceeding. However, if the need arises, an experienced guardianship attorney in Springfield can help you make the legal arrangements needed to protect the well-being of a loved one.


The Casey Kasem Saga from an Estate Planning Perspective [UPDATED]

Casey Kasem’s Story

If you have been reading online, you have probably seen the Casey Kasem sad story unfolding right before your eyes.  Unfortunately, Mr. Kasem’s story can teach us how to prepare for situations like his using Medical Powers of Attorney or Advanced Directives in New Jersey.

Most of us remember Casey Kasem and his American Top 40 voice booming every Sunday morning.  When I think of music and my childhood, Casey Kasem is the #1 thought that comes to my mind.  My #2 thought is telling my uncle at the age of 9 that “I live for Bon Jovi” – but that’s another story.

Time marches on and Mr. Kasem is now 82 years old.  Unfortunately, we can learn a lot (from an Estate Planning and Elder Law perspective) from the story that broke over the weekend about Mr. Kasem, his wife, and his daughter.

You might have read the story of Mr. Kasem’s disappearance to Washington in the last couple of weeks.  Apparently he was “just on vacation” according to his wife, Jean Kasem.

Kerri Kasem, Mr. Kasem’s daughter, tells a different story.  According to Kerri Kasem, her father “had developed bed sores and infections in his lungs and bladder while in Washington.”

Judges in California and Washington agreed, and they ruled that Kerri should have control over her father’s medical care.  But that’s when things got seriously weird.  On Sunday, June 1, 2014, when an ambulance came to take Mr. Kasem to the hospital, Jean Kasem started throwing raw meat and citing biblical scripture as they took her husband away. [SEE UPDATE BELOW]

“In the name of King David, I threw a piece of raw meat into the street in exchange for my husband to the wild rabid dogs,” Jean Kasem told NBC News, citing Biblical scripture.

Medical Powers of Attorney and Advanced Directives

The plight of Mr. Kasem, my iconic childhood music hero, can teach us a few things about Estate Planning and Elder law, especially in New Jersey.

There are a couple of planning tools that could have been used had Mr. Kasem been in New Jersey.  Most, if not every, state has similar tools, and therefore if you live in another state you can probably take advantage of similar estate planning tools.

Specifically, Mr. Kasem can use a New Jersey Medical Power of Attorney (or healthcare proxy) to name an agent to speak and act on his behalf in the event of incapacitation.  This agent can work with Mr. Kasem’s doctor to ensure he receives the best possible treatment.

Mr. Kasem can also create an Advanced Directive, which basically spells out his wishes in specific circumstances, e.g. which medications he would want to take, whether or not to keep him on life support, etc.  This Advanced Directive can also name an agent to act on his behalf if there are situations not enumerated in the Advanced Directive.

If Kerri Kasem had been in New Jersey, and she wanted to assume control over her father’s medical care without these documents (or even if Mr. Kasem named his wife as his agent to strip his wife of her rights), she could file a complaint to be appointed guardian and list the reasons for her filing.  The court would then decide what would be in the best interests of Mr. Kasem, in some cases appointing an independent conservator if the court would rule that neither wife nor daughter would act in Mr. Kasem’s best interests.

We can never know with absolute certainty what would have happened had Mr. Kasem been in New Jersey, but all we can do now is hope that he is receiving the best treatment possible so that he can fully recover.  If you have any questions about any of these estate planning or elder law concepts, please call Alec Borenstein at 908-236-6457 or email him at

Casey Kasem Update

According to CNN, new information has come to light about Mr. Kasem’s medical history.  CNN writes:

Casey Kasem has Lewy body disease, the most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer’s…

Three weeks ago, a California court awarded Kerri Kasem temporary durable power of attorney and health care directive and has ordered Jean Kasem to surrender Casey Kasem’s passport to the daughter. The California judge also ordered that Casey Kasem can’t travel anywhere without a court order until a doctor clears him.

One of Casey Kasem’s other daughters, Julie Kasem, and her husband, Dr. Jamil Aboulhosn, have said her father signed papers in 2007 giving them the power of attorney over his heath care in the event he was unable to make his own health decisions.

But Julie and Kerri Kasem and their brother, Mike Kasem, have contended since last year that Jean Kasem has prevented the three siblings from visiting their father.

Jean Kasem said in court papers last year that the three children “single-handedly and irreparably shattered” the couple’s lives by deploying public demonstrations and attacks in the media, according to CNN affiliate KCBS.

Kerri Kasem’s temporary conservatorship over her father is in effect until June 20, when another California court hearing is scheduled on whether to make the conservatorship permanent.

California clearly has similar laws to New Jersey, and Kerri Kasem is her father’s temporary conservator.  We should know more later this month.  Again, our best wishes are with Mr. Kasem and his family.


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