The First Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined the judge should not have merely accepted the Court Examiner’s position that petitioner, the Incapacitated Person’s (IP’s) son, should be removed as guardian of the property. A hearing should have been held:
Petitioner interposed an answer in which he raised issues of law and fact. He claimed, in part, that some of his actions did not require further court order but were permissible under the original order appointing him as guardian. He also claimed that he obtained prior court approval, albeit in the informal manner (i.e. emails or phone calls) employed by the previous judge who was assigned to this matter. He also made credible arguments that the decisions he made benefitted, and did not harm, the IP’s estate … .
Rather than hold a testimonial hearing, Supreme Court simply accepted what the Court Examiner claimed in her motion and appointed a nonrelative successor guardian…. . …
We have long recognized that strangers will not be appointed either a guardian of the person or the property unless it is impossible to find someone within the family circle who is qualified to serve … . The preference for a relative may be overridden by a showing that the guardian-relative has rendered inadequate care to the IP, has an interest adverse to the IP or is otherwise unsuitable to exercise the powers necessary to assist the IP … . Moreover, the ultimate remedy of removal may be an abuse of discretion, where a guardian’s errors do not prejudice or harm the estate. The court should also consider whether other less drastic remedies, such as ordering compliance or reducing the Guardian’s compensation, would be appropriate. None of these considerations were addressed by the Supreme Court before removing petitioner…. . Matter of Roberts, 2022 NY Slip Op 03336, First Dept 5-19-22
Practice Point: Here Supreme Court improperly accepted the Court Examiner’s position and removed the Incapacitated Person’s (IP’s) son as guardian of the property without holding a hearing or making any findings. A full testimonial hearing, giving petitioner (the IP’s son) the opportunity to be heard, should have been held. The court noted that appointing a stranger as guardian is a last resort and that there are options, such as reducing a guardian’s compensation, which should be considered.