Recently, Henrissa Bassey and Raziya Brumfeld, both 3Ls in WCL’s Disability Rights Law Clinic, testified before the D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety regarding Bill 20-0710, the Limitations Of Guardianship Amendment Act Of 2014. You can read the full text of the bill here.
Bassey, who herself will soon be appointed guardian for a brother with autism and intellectual disabilities in another jurisdiction, spoke in favor of the 3-5 year expiration period that the bill imposes on guardianships in the District. Under the bill, when a guardianship is set to expire, a court hearing would be required to renew it for another term. If the individual has developed additional decision making capacity since the guardianship was put in place, the court could determine that guardianship is no longer an appropriate arrangement. Bassey drew on her personal experience, noting that her brother has been working to learn basic life skills like reading, counting money, and attending social functions, and that her family expects that he will continue to improve to the point where he may be able to live more independently. She said, “As I reflect on my brother’s life and progress, I know that I would support a sunset provision on my future guardianship over [him].”
In her testimony, Brumfeld voiced concerns that the District’s current guardianship practices unnecessarily limit the autonomy of many people with disabilities. Noting that judges often appoint guardians “for people who have the capacity to make their own decisions, but simply need a little help or support,” Brumfeld advocated a requirement that petitioners for guardianship make a case for why supported decision making for the individual, as opposed to guardianship, would not be appropriate. Supported decision making is a practice whereby an individual’s support network of friends, family, and others assist that individual with making and carrying out decisions, instead of simply making those decisions on that person’s behalf. The current law encourages guardians to consider an individual’s wishes when making decisions, Brumfeld said, but by adding an affirmative requirement that assisted decision making be considered as a preferred alternative to guardianship “we can insure that guardianship is limited to those instances when it is completely necessary.”