The day may come when you’re unable to make important financial, healthcare and other life decisions on your own. If you don’t have a power of attorney or a spouse or child who is able to step in, the courts may appoint a professional guardian to make these decisions for you. This stranger can determine where you live, provide consent for medical treatments, decide how your finances are handled, have access to your confidential information, make end-of-life decisions, and more.
While this support is crucial when you’re not able to care for yourself, guardianship can also go too far. Because most states don’t have a lot of regulation around or oversight of guardianships, people have lost their life savings because of disreputable guardians, not to mention, their rights to vote, marry, etc.
“Guardianships are complicated and expensive, and most of all they are extremely invasive,” says Colleen Miller, executive director of the disAbility Law Center of Virginia.
Instead of guardianship, Miller and many other disability experts recommend people go the route of supported decision making. With this more rights-focused approach, you choose people you know and trust to help you make decisions, but the control remains firmly in your hands.
The people or person you choose can include family members, coworkers or friends. The key, however, is that you select those who know, respect and are willing to honor your preferences and wishes.
The day when you need this network to rally around you may be many years away, but Miller says, “It is important to make those plans while you still have decision-making capacity.”
Then, put it in writing and tell everyone you know, so that when the time comes, you have the support you need.
Share how you’ve prepared for this time in your life.