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Who Decides if a New York Resident is Incapacitated?

Posted on January 2, 2024


If you ask an experienced New York estate planning lawyer, they will tell you that incapacity is governed by New York’s mental hygiene laws. There are two ways that someone may be declared incapacitated.

The first is when an eligible party petitions the court to become your guardian. The second is if the court finds a vulnerable individual in an eviction or foreclosure proceeding because illness or mental health problems have led them to an inability to pay their bills. In this case, the court appoints a limited guardian to protect them. 

Both processes are called Article 81 proceedings.

Who Can Bring a Guardianship Action? 

Adult children, close relatives, and spouses may bring such cases. So can anyone who is “concerned with the welfare” of a person who is alleged to be incapacitated. The person who initiates the hearing must send notice to the AIP, their parents, adult siblings, and adult children if they are alive, or at least one living relative, if not. If the AIP lives with another person, they, too, are entitled to receive notice.

Anyone over the age of 18 may serve as a guardian. So may corporations and public agencies.

Incapacitated resident lawyer on Long Island

New York Process for Guardianship Petition

The person who needs a guardian is referred to as the alleged incapacitated person or AIP. When you file your petition for guardianship, you will be called petitioner, and then “guardian”, once you are appointed by the court.

A description must be included in the guardianship petition of the AIP’s ability to function. A judge will then nominate an independent evaluator who will interview and discuss with AIP their health and ability to provide care for themself. An independent evaluator may be an individual from the mental hygiene legal services, an attorney or psychologist, an accountant, a social worker, or a nurse. The judge will choose one of several pre-approved individuals.

The independent evaluator will then file a written report with observations and recommendations. The judge will then hold a hearing. If possible, the AIP will be present. The judge can appoint an attorney for the AIP if the AIP doesn’t want a guardian and would like to fight the petition.

Both the AIP and petitioner can present evidence during the hearing about the AIP’s condition. Sometimes there will be a jury trial to decide the issues raised during the hearing. This is especially true if an AIP doesn’t want a guardian. 

Next, the court will decide whether or not to appoint a guardian. The court will take into account many factors when making its decision. A court will only appoint guardians if it has “clear evidence” that the AIP is incapacitated and is most likely to suffer harm because of their incapacitation.

As the petitioner, you must prove the individual is likely to be incapacitated. It is the court’s responsibility to ensure that guardianship does not affect the AIP’s life more than necessary. This person should have as much autonomy as possible. You would need to submit annual reports to the court as a guardian about AIP’s health and the way you handled AIP money.

Guardianship Petition Process Course of Action
Filing the guardianship petition Act as the petitioner and provide a description of the alleged incapacitated person’s (AIP) ability to function.
Nomination and evaluation by an independent evaluator Conduct an interview and discussion with the AIP to assess their health and ability to provide self-care. Appoint an independent evaluator (e.g., mental hygiene legal services, attorney, psychologist, accountant, social worker, nurse).
Written report and hearing File a written report with observations and recommendations.
Decision on appointing a guardian Consider multiple factors to determine whether the AIP is incapacitated and likely to suffer harm due to their incapacitation.

Criteria for Incapacitation

No specific diagnosis is required, though evidence of a diagnosis can help shore up a case. For example, if a petitioner has evidence that the Alleged Incapacitated Person (AIP) has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, then this can help strengthen their case.

Rather, the court is attempting to determine if:

  • A person is likely to suffer harm because they are unable to provide for their personal needs.
  • They’re also likely to suffer harm because they can’t manage their property.
  • The person cannot adequately understand or appreciate the nature and consequences of such inability.

The court must consider a number of factors in these cases, including the person’s ability to manage the activities of daily living and the ways that the AIP has been managing their affairs to date. If an estate plan is in place, then the courts must consider the person’s wishes.

How a Skilled New York Estate Planning Lawyer Can Help

Guardianship proceedings can be a complex and emotional process for all parties involved. It is essential to understand the various steps, criteria, and legal implications surrounding guardianship in New York. 

If you or a loved one are facing a potential guardianship situation or wish to proactively plan for the future, it is crucial to have an experienced New York estate planning lawyer by your side.

At Schlessel Law PLLC, our team of skilled estate planning attorneys may be able to help you navigate the legal system, protect your rights and assets, and ensure that your wishes are respected. Contact us today at (516) 574-9630 to discuss your options and safeguard your future.

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