The entry of a Judgment appointing a legal Guardian for an incapacitated person may be the end of the court process, but it marks the start of a new process in which the Guardian has many obligations and responsibilities. After all, the Guardian’s primary obligation is to protect the personal and financial interests of the ward. One of these responsibilities is to “let the world know” that the individual has been declared by the Court to lack capacity to govern him/herself [in full or in part] and that another person has been vested by the Court with authority to make major decisions for that person. The Guardian should send a copy of the Judgment or Surrogate Certificates to every person or entity who is delivering services or holding money for the incapacitated person and should direct the necessary communications accordingly. This could include health care providers, financial advisors, banks, retirement fund administrators, etc.
There is a legal concept referred to as “actual notice” and “constructive notice.” Legal ramifications flow from whether another party had actual notice, constructive notice or no notice. For example, when a Will is admitted to probate, the estate’s Executor/administrator is obligated to give notice of the probate to each person who is an heir at law and each person who is a named beneficiary (and there are court rules and case law specifying how notice can be given if it isn’t certain just where the person resides). N.J.R. 4:80-6. It is the giving of the notice of probate that then triggers a limited time period for a person to file a challenge to the Will. N.J.R. 4:85-1.
A sad case in another State illustrates what can happen if actual notice of the incapacity and guardianship aren’t given. In this case, M.B. had been working and had accumulated an ESOP stock plan benefit. He was declared to be incapacitated, and a guardian (conservator) was appointed. He was working in a grocery store at that time. The guardian gave a copy of the judgment to a person at the store and instructed them to direct-deposit his pay to a certain account. Some time later, M.B. retired at age 56. He requested and received his $78,509 of ESOP stock benefits. The Plan Administrator did not know that a guardian had been appointed over his property, and did not know about the interactions involving the direct-deposit of the paycheck. The plan administrator granted his request and turned over the money to him. He was a vulnerable adult, and unfortunately quickly lost all his money to an internet scammer.
The Guardian asked the company to reinstate the benefit. The request was denied, and suit was filed under ERISA. The federal district court for the Northern District of Georgia granted summary judgment in favor of the company (Publix Markets), and the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed. The court held that “actual knowledge” of M.B.’s incapacity had to have been received by the Publix Retirement Department. The Guardian’s communication with a Publix employee regarding payroll issues did not satisfy this requirement. Bauman v. Publix Supermarkets Inc.,, 2017 WL 4510322 (11th Cir. Oct. 10, 2017) (unpublished).
Call us for legal advice concerning the duties of a guardian and carrying out the responsibilities of guardianship, and for legal actions such as sale of property that a guardian may need to file …. 732-382-6070