Legal guardianship, under U.S. law, is when a guardian is appointed to help a person with a mental or developmental disability make decisions. In this setting, the guardian is legally mandated to make all major decisions on behalf of the person they are assigned to, known as a ward. Such a relationship is often referred to as conservatorship.
The Case of Nick Clouse
This was the case with Nick Clouse, who suffered a traumatic brain injury from a 2012 car accident. His parents filed a petition to be his legal guardians. This would mean they would be responsible for his finances and health decisions.
Ultimately, Clouse recovered from the injury and desired to make decisions independently but was unable to because his parents held onto the guardianship. Clouse had to file for a petition in court, which caused a predicament since this required money, yet his parents controlled his finances. Luckily, his parents terminated the guardianship and he soon regained his freedom. But for many others, it may not be as easy.
How Guardianship Works
Guardianship services are mainly offered to the elderly, people with disabilities, or people in substance recovery. More than 1.3 million adults in the U.S. are currently under guardianship. So how does one get to be a legal guardian?
The process of guardianship starts with filing a petition into court with substantial evidence as to why a person should be under the care of a legal guardian. The judge then examines the case before deciding if guardianship is necessary, while providing the agreement’s restrictions.
However, with each passing year, less restrictive options are being implemented to help people with mental disabilities feel more independent. Many of these people end up being exploited, hence the need to lessen the grip that these agreements have.
In response to implementing less restrictive laws, states like Texas, Ohio, Delaware, Indiana, and Wisconsin now have their judges pass less restrictive court-appointed guardianships.
Adults can now make supported decisions with friends, social workers, and family members. The key advantage of this change is that the person under guardianship has the chance to make a final decision on their own.
Less Restrictive Guardianship: The Case of Jamie Beck
Jamie Beck of Indiana became the first to benefit from this new system. Having suffered from a mental and developmental disability, she was assigned guardianship at 19. She soon proved that she could comfortably live without guardianship, which was eventually terminated. Consequently, she was required to attain a group of people who would guide and advise her whenever she had to make a decision.
This was the best decision that the court could make regarding Beck’s life, as she is now living her life to the fullest, thanks to the supported decision-making agreement. Her life has regained normalcy as she can make the typical daily decisions without much effort.
With more states allowing supported decision-making, guardians are now required to be properly trained and educated before undertaking these tasks. Moreover, people who have guardians can make an official complaint regarding exploitation from their guardians.
A Final Word
However, it is concerning that guardians and the people they are looking after may not be up to date with these new guidelines. Therefore, states like Indiana require guardians to annually file documents stating whether these new methods have been implemented.
Sadly, many of them have not yet adhered to these new requirements. Finding and using less restrictive laws is not something that will happen overnight. Hopefully, with time, people will start to see and appreciate the importance of giving some independence to people with disabilities.