New Jersey legislators are now considering passage of the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act (“UAGPPJA”). This uniform law, promulgated by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in 2007, already has been adopted in 19 states and the District of Columbia, and is pending in the legislatures of 13 other states. The UAGPPJA also has been endorsed by the Alzheimer’s Association, the National Association of Elder Law Attorneys (“NAELA”) and the New Jersey Chapter of NAELA, the National College of Probate Judges, the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators, the National Guardianship Association and the American Bar Association. For reasons explained below, I recommend that readers of this blog support the adoption of the UAGPPJA in New Jersey.

The UAGPPJA addresses problems of determining jurisdiction when appointing a guardian or conservator for an incapacitated adult. At the present time, New Jersey, as well as virtually all state courts, relies upon a person’s domicile or residence to determine jurisdiction for the purpose of appointing a guardian. Further, presence of the person’s property is usually considered by a court to provide sufficient jurisdictional basis to appoint a conservator or a guardian of property. Consequently, more than one state court could assert authority over the same allegedly incapacitated person (or the person’s property) at the same time. In fact, disputes over jurisdiction have become commonplace.

The UAGPPJA seeks to resolve disputes over court authority to make decisions about guardianship by ensuring that only one state exercises jurisdiction over the alleged incapacitated person at any time. To accomplish that goal, the UAGPPJA establishes a mechanism by which a court can determine the state with primary jurisdiction. In most cases, the state with primary jurisdiction will be the incapacitated person’s “home state”. An individual’s “home state” is defined as the state in which the individual is physically present for at least 6 consecutive months immediately before the filing of a guardianship petition. If jurisdiction in the home state is not appropriate, the “significant-connection state”, or the state in which the individual has a significant connections other than mere physical presence, will then have jurisdiction. Factors indicating a “significant connection” exists include the location of the person’s family, the length of time the person has been physically present in the state, the location of the person’s property, and the extent to which the person has ties to the state such as voting registration, tax return filings, a driver’s license and receipt of governmental services.

The UAGPPJA also provides for the transfer and acceptance of a guardianship or conservatorship by one state to or from another state. The act also creates a registration procedure to facilitate recognition of out-of-state orders. A guardianship or protective order registered in the second state permits the guardian to exercise in the second state all powers authorized in the original state’s order of appointment except for powers that cannot be legally exercised in the second state. A state court may treat a foreign country as if it were a state for all purposes under the uniform act except for registration.

Until now, the lack of clear jurisdictional guideposts has resulted in courts and lawyers expending great amounts of time in resolving jurisdictional conflicts, burdened family members, exacerbated family conflict, and facilitated “granny snatching” and other abusive actions. Adoption of the UAGPPJA can resolve these problems. However the act cannot work to provide jurisdictional uniformity and reduce conflict, as it was intended to do, unless it is adopted by all or most states. For these reasons, it is recommended that the UAGPPJA be adopted in New Jersey.

A copy of the pending legislation is attached here – Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act