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October 31, 2019

COLA's Accomplishments in Guardianship Issues in 2019

The Commission is a go-to resource for guardianship and supported decision-making.

The Commission is a go-to resource for guardianship and supported decision-making.

(The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: Bifocal, Vol. 41, Issue 2.)

By Erica Wood

Adult guardianship issues are challenging, and transforming practices is an uphill battle. Sometimes older adults lose their rights to a guardianship system that too quickly determines “incapacity” in the name of protection. Some courts lack the resources, data and political will to improve guardianship monitoring and accountability.

Family guardians often don’t have the guidance they need. In some cases, guardians take advantage of their position of trust to exploit those under their care.

Since the 1980s, the ABA Commission on Law and Aging has been pushing for guardianship change. We analyze bills, respond to hundreds of requests for technical assistance, speak before state and national groups to prompt action and educate professionals, and urge best practices to change systemic problems.

We are a “go-to” source on guardianship and supported decision-making. Our web page is packed with up to date legislative, policy and practice information. In 2019, here’s how we made a difference:

  • The National Center for State Courts partnered with the ABA Commission to release an interactive, user-friendly online training called Finding the Right Fit: Decision-Making Supports and Guardianship, https// The course offers realistic scenarios as well as information on supporting someone to make decisions; legal decision-making options; and serving as a guardian. It features realistic scenarios to help users develop their own strategies.
  • The Commission once again produced its nationally recognized annual state guardianship legislative update, an essential tool for policymakers, researchers, and law-related groups. The final 2019 update will be posted at the end of the year. Throughout the year, the Commission partnered with AARP to help state AARP advocates track and analyze bills.
  • Working with the National Center on Law and Elder Rights, the Commission led two national webinars on guardianship reaching professionals who can take action to change lives. In June, the Commission, with Jim Berchtold of Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, presented “When the Guardian is an Abuser;” and in September, with Catherine Seal of Kirtland & Seal, LLC of Colorado, we presented “Representing a Client in A Defense of Guardianship Case.”
  • Under a grant from the DHHS Administration for Community Living, the ABA Commission is enabling state stakeholders to work together strategically on guardianship improvements specific to their state, through WINGS, or Working Interdisciplinary Networks of Guardianship Stakeholders. WINGS can drive changes that any single agency or organization could not. For example, this year Oregon WINGS completed a comprehensive assessment of the availability and use of less restrictive decision-making options throughout the state and has produced a train-the-trainer curriculum to inform professionals. Florida developed a four-part, web-based judicial and legal continuing education curriculum.
  • The Commission partnered with the Virginia Tech Center for Gerontology and the New York Vera Guardianship Project to develop and release a comprehensive report with recommendations, Incapacitated, Indigent, and Alone: Meeting Guardianship and Decision Support Needs in New York, funded by the New York Community Trust.

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