What can go wrong with guardianship?

David Lord
Director of Public Policy

Sometimes, a person with a disability needs help making decisions.  Often, a guardian will be appointed by a judge to help.  But, guardianship can take away many rights, and some guardians don’t do a good job.

Guardianship is not the only way to help with making decisions. You can get help making decisions without a guardianship.

What if someone thinks you need a guardian, and you do need help making decisions sometimes – but don’t want to lose your rights?  What can you do?

1. Decide what supports and protections you need.  Do you need help with your money?  Do you need help making medical decisions?  Do you need protection from abuse or exploitation?

2. Find people who you trust to support you or help protect you. There are many people who can help. Sometimes friends or family are best. Sometimes a staff person in a program is supportive. Look for people who:

Listen to what you say;
Help you do what you say you want;
Talk about what you can do well – not just what you can’t do.

3.  If you need help with your money, think about some of the following ideas:

Open a joint bank account.  You can set up a bank account with “two signatures required.”  Since you and one other person have to sign the checks, this can help you control spending and protect you from people who may try to cheat you out of your money.

Ask for a payee.  You can agree to have a payee appointed for your money.  A payee can help you manage your money. Many people with SSI or Social Security have payees.

4.  If you need help with medical or other decisions, think about some of the following ideas:

Do you need a new doctor?  If you can’t understand your doctor and have trouble making decisions, maybe you need a new doctor who will explain things better.

Ask someone you trust to come to meetings and appointments.  You can ask a friend or someone you trust to go with you to meetings.  You have the right to have someone come in with you when the doctor examines you or talks to you.  You have the right to have someone come to any meeting with you as an advocate.

Appoint a power of attorney.  A power of attorney is a document that gives someone the right to help with your decisions.  You can say what you want the person to do in the power of attorney. You can fire the person whenever you want.  Not everyone can appoint a power of attorney – you must be able to understand what you are doing.  The person with the power of attorney is your advocate.  A staff person cannot have a power of attorney, but a family member can.

BUT – BE CAREFUL! Do not give a person a power of attorney unless you trust them and have known them for a long time.  Make sure that the person is someone you are sure will not cheat you.

5.  If you are abused or exploited, consider the following:

Call the police and Adult Protective Services (APS).  APS and the police help people who are abused, neglected, and exploited.  They can ask a judge for a “protection order” that says that an abuser cannot contact you.  If the abuser still bothers you, they can be sent to jail.

Make a “stay safe plan” with someone you trust.  Talk to a friend, a family member, a staff person, case manager – anyone you can trust.  Ask them to help you decide what to do if someone tries to abuse or exploit you. Make a plan

Common Problems with Guardians and What to do About Them

Someone has applied to be my guardian. I don’t want the person to be my guardian. I don’t need a guardian at all!

You can fight the guardianship. You can tell the judge that you want a lawyer, ask other people to come to court to help you convince the judge not to give you a guardian.  If you don’t like the person who is applying to be your guardian, you can suggest someone else.  Make sure that the judge knows about the things you can do – not just the things you have trouble with.

I have a guardian, but I don’t really need one.