Guardianship of Adults in North Carolina

The law presumes that all adults are legally competent and have the ability and right to manage their own affairs and to make decisions for themselves. Oftentimes, however, family members or friends find that a loved one cannot take care of their own finances or make the necessary decisions to live independently. If the person has executed a power of attorney, then the named attorney-in-fact may act on the person’s behalf in the manner authorized by the power of attorney (there are two general types of POAs – healthcare and financial). If the person has a trust which authorizes the trustee to take certain financial actions upon the incompetency of the person, then the trustee may do so. A problem arises, however, when a person needs to execute these documents but no longer has legal capacity to do so. In this situation, in order for a child, spouse, or other loved one to become authorized to make decisions on behalf of a person who no longer can, they must be appointed guardian by the Clerk of Superior Court in the county in which the incompetent person resides.

There are two aspects of a guardianship proceeding in North Carolina – first, the adjudication of incompetency, and second, the appointment of the guardian(s). The procedure to adjudicate competency and to appoint a guardian is laid out in Chapter 35A of the North Carolina General Statutes. 

To initiate a proceeding, a person must file with the Clerk of Court a verified petition for the adjudication of incompetence of an adult. The petition should include a general statement of the respondent’s assets and liabilities, a statement of the facts tending to show that the respondent is incompetent and the reason or reasons why the adjudication of incompetence is sought, and the name, address, and county of residence of the respondent’s next of kin and other persons known to have an interest in the proceeding. Upon filing of the petition, an attorney will  be appointed as guardian ad litem to represent the respondent.

Within five days after filing of the petition, the clerk shall issue a written notice of the date, time, and place for a hearing on the petition, which shall be held not less than 10 days nor more than 30 days after service of the notice and petition on the respondent, unless the clerk extends the time for good cause, for preparation of a multidisciplinary evaluation as provided in G.S. 35A-1111, or for the completion of a mediation. Copies of the petition and initial notice of hearing shall be personally served on the respondent.  Respondent’s counsel or guardian ad litem shall be served pursuant to G.S. 1A-1, Rule 4, Rules of Civil Procedure.  The petitioner, within five days after filing the petition, shall mail copies of the notice and petition to the respondent’s next of kin alleged in the petition and any other persons the clerk may designate.

Usually, guardianship hearings are held with the clerk of court sitting as finder of fact. However, the respondent has a right, upon request by him, his counsel, or his guardian ad litem, to trial by jury. If the finder of fact, whether the clerk or the jury, finds by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence that the respondent is incompetent, the clerk shall enter an order adjudicating the respondent incompetent.  The clerk may include in the order findings on the nature and extent of the ward’s incompetence.

Following an adjudication of incompetence, the clerk shall appoint a guardian pursuant to Subchapter II of Chapter 35A. Any individual, corporation, or disinterested public agent may file an application for the appointment of a guardian for an incompetent person by filing the same with the clerk. During a hearing to determine the appointment of a guardian, the clerk shall make such inquiry and receive such evidence as the clerk deems necessary to determine: the nature and extent of the needed guardianship; the assets, liabilities, and needs of the ward; and who, in the clerk’s discretion, can most suitably serve as the guardian or guardians. If the clerk determines that the nature and extent of the ward’s capacity justifies ordering a limited guardianship, the clerk may do so.

The clerk may appoint as guardian an adult individual, a corporation, or a disinterested public agent. In most circumstances, a person appointed as general guardian or guardian of the estate must post a surety bond to guarantee their performance. A nonresident of the State of North Carolina, to be appointed as general guardian, guardian of the person, or guardian of the estate of a North Carolina resident, must indicate in writing his willingness to submit to the jurisdiction of the North Carolina courts in matters relating to the guardianship and must appoint a resident agent to accept service of process for the guardian in all actions or proceedings with respect to the guardianship. Such appointment must be approved by and filed with the clerk.

Evan Lohr is an attorney with Lohr & Lohr PLLC in Raleigh. He regularly handles estate and guardianship matters. He can be reached at evan@lohrnc.com or at (919) 348-9211.

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