The appointment of a Guardian under Article 81 of the Mental Hygiene Law ("MHL") is subject to the procedures set forth in the statute. The proceeding is commenced by filing an Order to Show Cause and Verified Petition with the New York Supreme Court. The petitioner contains a significant amount of information concerning the alleged incapacitated person ("AIP") including a designation of the AIP's ability to manage activities of daily living (MHL Section 81.08).
Manhattan Guardianships, as well as Guardianship proceedings in other New York counties, require that notice of the proceeding be given to the AIP's spouse, parents, adult children, adult siblings and the persons with whom the AIP resides (MHL Section 81.07).
Information regarding the AIP's family may not always be readily available. This is particularly so where the Guardianship proceeding is commenced by a non-related party such as a New York Department through Adult Protective Services or a medical facility or a nursing home.
It is not uncommon for a group of relatives to be at odds concerning the appointment of a Guardian. Different individuals may have competing views as to whether a Guardian should be appointed and, if so, who the most appropriate person is to act as Guardian of the Person or Property. Sometimes, one of the parties to the Court action has already been exercising control over the AIP's property and personal affairs, possibly through the use of a Durable Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy. Such person may resent interference from other family members and try to restrict their access to the AIP or involvement with decision making. In these situations, a full hearing of the competing claims and assertions can be held by the Court in order to ascertain what is in the best interest of the AIP.
A Bronx Guardianship case in which competing family views were presented to the Court was recently decided by the Honorable Alexander W. Hunter, entitled Matter of G.V.S., decided on December 16, 2011 and reported in the New York Law Journal on January 23, 2012.
In G.V.S., the AIP was a 73 year old person who became incapacitated due to a stroke. A Guardianship Petition was filed by the person's daughter. Testimony at the Court hearing was given by the daughter, two sons, the person's long-time companion, the person's son-in-law and brother. Family members had complained that the petitioner-daughter had tried to control the AIP's affairs and had excluded them from contact with the AIP.
Although the Court appointed the daughter as Guardian of the AIP's person and property, the Court directed that she was not allowed to prevent the other family members from having access to the AIP and that she must keep them informed concerning the AIP's health and medical condition.
G.V.S. demonstrates that a Guardianship proceeding not only involves matters regarding the AIP's ability to care for his or her affairs, but also issues concerning the friends and relatives who might be involved in the person's physical care and property management. Guardianship attorneys and their clients need to review and evaluate all of these aspects when commencing a Guardianship case so that the Court can be presented with all of the relevant information to make a determination that will be for the long-term benefit of the AIP.