Hoosiers With Disabilities Now Have a Less Restrictive Alternative to Guardianship, the Supported Decision Making Agreement

Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP

Faegre Baker Daniels

After working for years to become more independent, Richmond native Jamie Beck has made Indiana history in how she successfully terminated the letters of guardianship over her. Indiana Disability Rights (IDR) recently announced that Jamie filed the first petition in Indiana seeking to terminate a guardianship in favor of a Supported Decision Making Agreement. In a matter of first impression, the court granted Jamie’s petition, potentially paving the way for guardians across the state to formalize existing support systems and encourage Hoosiers with disabilities to achieve the greatest degree of independence possible.

Jamie was diagnosed with mild intellectual disability and attention deficit disorder and was adjudicated an incapacitated person in November of 2010. But her petition, filed last month, detailed her improvement since the adjudication. At the time of filing, Jamie lived in the community, worked two part-time jobs and did volunteer work. In October of 2017, Jamie began a vocational training program in environmental services in Muncie, Indiana. Her participation recently led to an offer of full-time employment with Ball Memorial Hospital. Two weeks after Jamie’s petition was filed, she was set to begin orientation.

The petition, filed on Jamie’s behalf by IDR attorneys, included a certification from her primary care provider that she is no longer incapacitated and sought to terminate her letters of guardianship because she no longer fits within the statutory definition of an “incapacitated person.” Indiana Code section 29-3-1-7.5 defines an incapacitated person, in relevant part, as one who is unable to manage in whole or in part the individual’s property and/or is unable to provide self-care.

More importantly, though, Jamie’s petition set out the support system Jamie has and will continue to leverage. Jamie knows that she will continue to rely on formal and informal assistance to live safely and independently in the community. The Supported Decision Making Agreement, attached as an exhibit to the petition, “solemnizes” the support system she has in place. Her support team consists of individuals she knows and trusts to assist her in making decisions on finances, health care, legal matters, services and supports, and housing. The petition said if the court grants Jamie’s petition, she plans to host a gathering to formally execute the Supported Decision Making Agreement in the presence of her supporters. On June 13, 2018, the court held a hearing and ordered the letters of guardianship over Jamie terminated.

The Court’s recognition that Jamie can be more independent with a well-planned support system acknowledges the wide range of abilities and needs people with disabilities experience. And the Court’s decision also implicitly recognizes that the statutory notion of “incapacity” labels and legally disadvantages people in ways that aren’t always necessary. Guardianship proceedings are complicated and involve removing a person’s legal authority to make some of the most important life decisions. Questions on guardianship proceedings should be directed to legal counsel.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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