Aug 13

Probate Judges Have Broad Discretion to Determine Whether Plenary Hearings Are Required


The son of a ward in a contested guardianship matter appealed a probate court’s summary dismissal of his request to remove the guardian without conducting a plenary hearing. The court reasoned summary dismissal protects further depletion of the ward’s estate that would result in a contentious hearing to address arguments that had been previously decided in the initial contested guardianship application. The probate court’s judgment was affirmed on appeal.

The court held removal of a fiduciary is an “extraordinary remedy” that should only be allowed sparingly and with evidence from the applicant seeking removal, the fiduciary engaged in misconduct. However, probate matters are subject to summary actions and probate judges have broad discretion in determining whether additional plenary hearings are warranted. The son merely raised the same issues that were decided in the initial contested guardianship action and offered no credible evidence supporting removal. Also, the guardian’s yearly accountings were proper, a nursing home report contradicted the son’s assertion the ward was receiving poor care, and the court had already decided the guardian had not engaged in self-dealing. For these reasons, the probate judge properly exercised his discretion to summarily dismiss the son’s claim and deny a plenary hearing.

Matter of Scuderi, 2015 WL 4112149 (N.J. Super. App. Div. July 9, 2015)