Power Of Attorney, Who Is Neither The Principal’s Spouse Nor Next Of Kin, Lacks Standing To Bring A Guardianship Action

A Superior Court judge ruled that an agent appointed under a power of attorney who is unrelated to the principal by marriage or blood lacks standing to file a lawsuit seeking guardianship of the principal in New Jersey. In the Matter of Costa Nova, An Alleged Incapacitated Person, Docket No ESX – CP – 0196-10 (Ch. Div., April 12, 2011).

In 2008 and 2009, Costa Nova appointed two of his friends as his agents under a general power of attorney and healthcare power of attorney. He also appointed his two friends as executor and substitute executor under his will in 2006. Several years later, in June 2010, Mr. Nova revoked the prior estate documents and appointed his long-time attorney and his caregiver as his agents under his general and healthcare powers of attorney. He also named his caregiver as the primary beneficiary under his will.

In July 2010, the two friends and former agents brought an action seeking guardianship of Mr. Nova in the Superior Court, Chancery Division, Probate Part, Essex County. The Court appointed an attorney to serve as guardian ad litem for Mr. Nova. The medical evidence submitted to the Court was conflicting. Mr. Nova’s neurologist concluded that there was “no clinical evidence of significant cognitive dysfunction.” Similarly, Mr. Nova’s psychiatrist concluded Mr. Nova was mentally competent to manage his own affairs and person. The Court-appointed guardian ad litem delivered a report concluding that Mr. Nova was not an incapacitated person. However, the psychiatrist retained by the petitioners found that Mr. Nova “lacks full capacity to make informed decisions about his financial affairs or health, and is unable to care for himself independently.”

Mr. Nova then filed a motion to dismiss the guardianship action. On the hearing date, Hon. Walter Koprowski, Jr., J.S.C., Presiding Judge, Chancery Division, Essex County, dismissed the action. Judge Koprowski ruled that a complainant in a guardianship action was required by statute to be either a relative or a person with a legal or equitable interest in the subject of the action, and that a power of attorney does not give one a “legal or equitable interest” in either the assets or person of the principal. Opinion, Page 3. Accordingly, since plaintiffs were neither relatives of Mr. Nova nor persons with a legal or equitable interest in his person or estate, Judge Koprowski found that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the action.

The Court’s opinion can be found here – In the Matter of Costa Nova, An Alleged Incapacitated Person, Docket No ESX – CP – 0196-10 (Ch. Div., April 12, 2011)