May 15, 2022 marks the one year anniversary of the amendments to R. 4:86 requiring background screening for certain proposed guardians. Since the inception of the background screening requirement, Bergen County has filed in excess of 275 adult guardianship applications, with almost 50% requiring background screening for at least one proposed guardian.
The Bergen County Superior Court and the Bergen County Surrogate’s Court are experiencing difficulty with fingerprinting various proposed guardians, wherein the proposed guardian(s) fail to contact the Sheriff’s Department to schedule fingerprinting and/or fail to appear for their fingerprinting appointment(s) which were scheduled by the proposed guardian. This results in multiple adjournments to the detriment of the alleged incapacitated individual.
Follow up telephone calls or emails from the Court to proposed guardians with regard to same are met with a plethora of reasons as to why fingerprinting has not occurred. By way of example, and by no means an exhaustive list:
- Proposed guardian was previously fingerprinted for another reason (ie. employment) and should not need to be fingerprinted
- Proposed guardian works full time and cannot appear for fingerprinting during business hours
- Proposed guardian is out of the country on business for several months
- Proposed guardian refuses to provide Social Security Number required for background screening
- Counsel failed to notify proposed guardian of requirement to be fingerprinted
At present, the Bergen Vicinage and the Bergen County Surrogate are both operating with a reduced staff and the continuous and repeated attempts to follow up with proposed guardians has been challenging, particularly when they are represented by counsel and should have been thoroughly advised as to the Court’s background screening policy.
We urge counsel to explain to proposed guardians that the requirement for background screening is mandated by the Administrative Office of the Courts, and failure to comply with the requirement in a timely manner will result in automatic disqualification of the proposed guardian.
Applications for adult guardianship that are not accompanied by Name/Address/Phone Number/Social Security Number/Date of Birth/and Email Address of proposed guardians will not be docketed until this information is provided.
Further, proposed guardians will be afforded sixty (60) days from the date of filing to complete background screening. Failure to do so will result in automatic disqualification of the proposed guardian(s) absent exigent circumstances. Notices will be sent to counsel and pro se litigants with signed Orders Fixing Hearing Date.
We ask that you recognize the seriousness of timely compliance in protecting the rights of Bergen County’s most vulnerable citizens and thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation.
/s/ Bonnie J. Mizdol, A.J.S.C. and Surrogate Michael R. Dressler Bergen County
May 5, 2022