This certification requires guardians to pass a background check, complete up to 30 hours of training, pass an exam and renew their certification every two years, according to Angie Troutman, the center’s certification director, who said the center has certified about 1,500 guardians. A vast majority of them are well meaning, she said.
According to many states’ laws, guardianships are meant to be last resorts after other options have failed. In practice, advocates for people with disabilities say, they are imposed without considering other options.
“It’s a really big deal,” Zoe Brennan-Krohn, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Disability Rights Program, said of imposing guardianship. “But in reality, judges don’t tend to look at it that way. Courts don’t tend to look at it with the care and the scrutiny that you would want.”
Ending a guardianship is extremely difficult in many places, experts said. The process can be expensive and time-consuming, and many people do not know where to begin — nor are they empowered to hire their own lawyer while under a guardianship, according to Morgan Whitlatch, legal director for the nonprofit Quality Trust for Individuals With Disabilities.
Experts say there are less restrictive arrangements that can be used instead of guardianship, including what is known as supported decision-making, in which individuals select trusted advisers to help them understand their decisions.
Some advocates view supported decision-making as a preferable option that protects civil rights while also allowing doctors, bankers and lawyers to accept the decisions of people with disabilities without fear of lawsuits or malpractice claims.
Other less restrictive alternatives to guardianship include a power of attorney, which authorize someone to make certain choices on a person’s behalf for a certain period of time. Another alternative is an advanced medical directive, in which a person lays out a plan for what they want to be done if they should become incapacitated in the future; these are commonly used to create medical treatment plans, and can be helpful for people who experience recurring psychiatric episodes.