Plain Language Summary – Guardianship and Supported Decision Making

When a person turns 18 in the United States, they are called a legal adult. A legal adult is given rights, like voting and signing forms for themselves. When a person becomes a legal adult, they usually become their own legal guardian too. A legal guardian makes other important choices, like medical decisions. Sometimes a judge will decide that it is better to have someone else make those important choices.

Guardianship is when a judge decides someone else should make some important decisions for a person with a disability. The person a judge picks to make choices is called a guardian. A guardian can be a mom or dad or someone else the judge picks. A guardian can make decisions about things like how a person with a disability spends their money. Guardians can also decide what doctors the person needs to see and what medicines they should take. Guardians are supposed to make decisions to keep the other person healthy and safe.

Guardianship is not the only option. Another option to help people with disabilities make decisions is supported decision making. Supported decision making lets the person be their own guardian. This means the person makes their own decisions but they have a team to help. This team is made up of people the person picks like family, friends, support workers and more.

There can be challenges with guardianship and supported decision making. For example, a person with a disability may be given a guardian when they do not need one. Or, a guardian might not put the other person’s needs first.

With supported decision-making, sometimes the team has trouble helping the person make a decision without being too bossy. They have to remember that the person with the disability is the one in charge. The team should only help to make a decision when it is needed. If the person can decide by themselves, then the team doesn’t need to help.

Supported decision making can be a good choice for many people. It can give a person with a disability a safe way to be more independent. For some people, guardianship is the better choice. It is important for a person with a disability to think about what is best for them.

To learn more, read the MHDD fact sheet about Guardianship and Supported Decision Making. You can also visit the Utah Parent Center website to learn more about supported decision making and to view a Self Advocate’s Guide to Supported Decision Making.

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