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March 14, 2022

COLA WINGS: Where We've Been, What We've Done, How YOU Can Get Involved

Elizabeth Moran

The PDF in which this article appears can be found in Bifocal Vol. 43 Issue 4.

Working Interdisciplinary Networks of Guardianship Stakeholders (WINGS) are guardianship stakeholder partnerships that drive changes affecting guardianship policy and practice. The ABA Commission on Law and Aging (COLA) hosts bi-monthly meetings where state WINGS can share projects, successes, challenges, and ideas, and galvanize change through “collective impact”– by coordinating actions of organizations with the same goals. Reinforcing each other’s efforts is a win-win. This article is the first of many COLA will provide our BiFocal audience on state WINGS collective efforts across the nation.

Where We’ve Been…

WINGS began with a handful of states in 2013. In 2016, COLA received a grant from the Administration for Community Living (ACL) to establish, enhance, and expand state WINGS and so provided subgrants to the highest courts in seven states to launch or build on existing WINGS groups. The goal was testing whether WINGS is an approach that could advance guardianship reform to avoid unnecessary and overbroad guardianship when less restrictive options are available, promoting self-determination, and to prevent, detect and address abuses in the guardianship system.  Results of the ACL-funded COLA WINGS project can be found in the 2020 Briefing Paper Advancing Guardianship Reform and Promoting Less Restrictive Option.

Since that time, additional states have convened WINGS or similar guardianship reform stakeholder groups on their own.  Although no longer funded, COLA continues to coordinate state WINGS information and activities, where state WINGS representatives share ideas, projects, challenges, strategies, and successes.

What We’ve Done…

State WINGS have made significant progress, particularly in training and the production of state-specific resources. WINGS initiatives have increased communication among state stakeholders, moving toward solutions for longstanding problems. They raised the visibility of guardianship and the need for reform and began a sustainable effort toward change.   Highlights of current WINGS work includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Alaska has formed a new Statute Committee to review and update current statutes, and is considering starting an Options Committee to look at alternatives to guardianship.  Alaska’s Court Improvement and Monitoring Committee is now fully staffed, including self-help facilitators and a compliance officer, and they are putting together an informal group on guardianship monitoring to share ideas and avoid recreating the wheel.
  • Maryland was awarded a 2-year Elder Justice Innovation (EJI) grant from ACL. Led by Maryland’s highest court, stakeholders are specifically looking at the healthcare-to-guardianship Pipeline, which focuses on diverting people away from the courts, avoiding unnecessary guardianships and placing individuals into less restrictive alternatives. Maryland is also looking at training programs for judges and attorneys and restructuring that training to be more experienced based and centered on the alternatives to guardianships.
  • Massachusetts is a recipient of an ACL EJI grant which involves creation of an office of adult guardianship and conservatorship oversight, efforts to conduct an assessment, analyze and interpret the data they are currently collecting, collaborate with the existing aging and disability network partners, and development of procedures on less restrictive alternatives and restoration of rights. They are also working to develop an internal court Advisory Committee and an ombudsman program for the public to voice concerns and are working on a decision-making bill and a public guardian program that is currently piloted in three counties.
  • Minnesota also received an Elder Justice Innovation grant and are working to set-up focus groups to develop supported decision-making legislation and explore legislation possibilities for default surrogate consent.
  • Missouri will be releasing funding centered on consultation and mediation resources to engage adults with disabilities and helping them stay out of guardianship and restoring rights. Some funding will be put in the school districts to start conversations around determination and supported decision-making.
  • New Mexico officially became a WINGS state last year (2021). Their first piece of WINGS legislation just made it through the house floor, including mandatory expedited hearing for a temporary guardianship within 10 working days of being filed, the protected person or the lead incapacitated person must be personally served with notice of the petition and hearing within 24 hours and the Guardian ad litem immediately appointed must submit an initial report two days prior to that hearing.
  • Nevada has been working on their Elder Justice Innovation grant, engaging in data collection and development of guardianship monitoring.
  • North Carolina has been reviewing the guardianship statute and are working on updates to terminology, eliminating the presumption of permanence, appointing guardians for not more than one year with limited extensions, reinforcing individual rights, and requiring the alternatives prior to the petition for guardianship. North Carolina is also working on a pilot study on cost and other data for implementing a guardian ad litem program, and development of trainings on options for supported decision making and interactive self-paced learning tools to help stakeholders get answers to questions.
  • Ohio is developing a survey for probate courts with the goal of getting a handle on numbers, practices, the scope of issues, and gathering centralized statewide data to support requests for a good statewide guardianship tracking system.
  • Oregon is moving forward with their ACL EJI grant project to assess how the courts are monitoring guardianships across the state and working with a statewide auditor to do a review of accountings that are problematic. Oregon WINGS will also be working to develop trainings on change management, leveraging data that helps them keep projects moving forward with legislation, and implementation of a recent bill passed providing a right to counsel for protective persons. Oregon is also working on trainings focused on educators and hospitals and on getting hospitals to stop the pipeline straight to guardianship, and The Get a Life Plan focusing on alternatives to guardianship. The group’s message is disseminated by means of a website and has purchased Google ads that has resulted in a significant increase in web hits.
  • Pennsylvania reported that state courts updated the public access policy to include guardianships that are currently out of their guardianship tracking system and are providing virtual trainings for guardians. They are looking at more training for judges on getting better at monitoring guardians who aren’t filing reports and monitoring cases at the county level.
  • Virginia WINGS is divided in three areas; monitoring, training, and data. The training committee has produced resources for the public including a FAQ on seeking guardianship appointment, trainings on the guardianship process, and a least restrictive options document, all of which will be disseminated to judges at judicial conferences. They will be also updating the Virginia bench book’s appendices, adding practice highlights and a section on least restrictive options and creating bench cards.
  • COLA WINGS break-out meetings to collaborate on collective state WINGS efforts, such as dissemination of the 22 Recommendations resulting from the 4th National Guardianship Summit (May 2021).

How YOU Can Get Involved…

There are several ways you can support and engage with COLA WINGS ongoing efforts:

  • COLA hosts a bi-monthly call providing each state’s WINGS and WINGS-related stakeholders a forum in which to give updates, share successes, challenges, and ideas, and to foster collaboration.  Our limited time during those meetings only allows for one person to report out on updates for each state, but all state WINGS members and related stakeholders are welcome. If you’d like to be added to the COLA WINGS listserv, please email your request to ABA COLA’s Associate Editor, Trisha Bullock at [email protected].
  • Support and engage with local or regional WINGS. COLA WINGS website provides a brief overview and contact information for currently existing state WINGS groups, at These groups have strong court support, have identified priorities, and recognize that interdisciplinary stakeholders must come together in order to create change.
  • Support and engage in ongoing advocacy efforts to secure federal legislation with appropriations to implement and sustain a Guardianship Court Improvement Program. On August 3, 2020 the American Bar Association continued its long-standing commitment to advancing adult guardianship reform and adopted a resolution urging Congress to invest in a Guardianship Court Improvement Program.
  • Support COLA WINGS in its efforts to provide ongoing support, assistance, and collaborative opportunities. State WINGS require ongoing support and technical assistance to realize their potential for creating long lasting systemic change. Programs like WINGS should exist in every state under a national infrastructure with consistent, ongoing technical assistance and support. To that end, COLA continues to facilitate meetings and coordinate efforts for development of state WINGS, and is actively seeking financial support to help continue the collective impact. If you are interested in supporting COLA WINGS effort, please contact COLA Director, David Godfrey, at [email protected]  or contribute online with a note in the “Tribute” line in support of “COLA WINGS.” Thank you for your consideration in supporting this important work.

While WINGS projects have advanced adult guardianship reform, most current state WINGS entities are only modestly funded, which is not enough to support ongoing efforts to significantly improve outcomes for adults subject to guardianship. Increased funding and support would enable state WINGS to build capacity and support undertaking more costly and intensive advocacy efforts such as court data management and monitoring of guardians to prevent and address financial exploitation and abuse. We hope you and/or your organization will join us in those efforts.

Elizabeth Moran

Senior Attorney, ABA Commission on Law and Aging