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Disabled woman promotes alternatives to guardianships

Some months ago, this blog noted an unusual court battle in which a woman with Down syndrome had her parents removed as her legal guardians. The woman is now joining a campaign to promote alternatives to guardianships for other people with disabilities and their families.

The woman, now 29, was born with Down syndrome, a genetic condition that commonly causes mental retardation. Her parents wanted her to live in a group home, but she wanted to live more independently. She wanted to hold down her job at a thrift store and live with a couple whom she had befriended.

The judge in her case agreed that the woman needed guardians to help her manage her affairs, but ruled that she should have some say in who those guardians may be. Ultimately, the judge ruled that the couple should serve as her guardians on a temporary basis, but instructed them to prepare her for independent living.

The arrangement is called supported decision-making. This case represents what activists claim is the first time a judge in the United States has ever ordered supported decision-making for a person with mental disabilities. With the help of a Washington, D.C., group called Quality Trust, the woman has joined an initiative designed to promote supported decision-making arrangements for other people with disabilities.

Under Washington law, parents are typically presumed to be the legal guardians of their children until the children reach age 18. After that, the children legally become adults, able to make their own decisions. However, in the interest of caring for a loved one with disabilities, many parents file to have their guardianship extended. A similar process helps children take care of their parents when the parents suffer disabilities such as dementia.

In any guardianship case, Washington courts must consider the best interests of the ward. Qualified legal professionals can help explain how the process works for Washington residents who have concerns about future or present guardianship arrangements.

Source:, "Center To Promote Alternatives To Guardianships," Michelle Diament, Oct. 25, 2013

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