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January 23, 2023

Guardianship Reform/WINGS Background

Challenges addressed by WINGS have longstanding historical roots.

Challenges addressed by WINGS have longstanding historical roots.

Key Guardianship Reforms

State Statutory Reform

In the past 30 years, states have strengthened their guardianship statutes. However, implementation in practice has been uneven and data is sparse to nonexistent. See U.S. Government Accountability Office reports on guardianship in 2004, 2010, 2011 & 2016.

AP Guardianship Series

A groundbreaking 1987 Associated Press (AP) series triggered modern guardianship reform, contending that “overworked and understaffed court systems frequently break down, abandoning those incapable of caring for themselves” (Bayles & McCartney, Guardians of the Elderly: An Ailing System, 1987). Following the AP report, three landmark multidisciplinary consensus conferences served as an engine driving needed reform. 

  • The 1988 “Wingspread” conference in Racine, Wisconsin
  • The 2001 “Wingspan” conference in St. Petersburg, Florida
  • The 2011 Third National Summit, sponsored by the National Guardianship Network, in Salt Lake City, Utah

Guardian Autonomy and Performance Improvements

Other key efforts to strengthen individual autonomy and improve guardian performance have included:

  • A 1997 revision of the Uniform Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Act, with another to be approved in July 2017;

  • A 2013 revision of the National Guardianship Association Standards of Practice;

  • A 2013 update to National Probate Court Standards (National College of Probate Courts) to guide courts across the country; and

  • Creation by the National Center for State Courts of a Center for Elders and the Courts, disseminating promising judicial practices nationally.    

National Guardianship Summit

The 2011 National Guardianship Summit was convened by the National Guardianship Network, comprised of 11 national organizations dedicated to effective adult guardianship law and practice. A central concept was that guardianship reform can best be accomplished by ongoing state problem-solving multidisciplinary entities.  The Summit urged that states develop WINGS to advance adult guardianship reform and target less restrictive options. 

State Wings Pilots

In 2013 and again in 2015, the National Guardianship Network, with coordination by the ABA Commission on Law and Aging, sought and received support from the State Justice Institute, the Borchard Foundation Center on Law and Aging, and other sources, for start-up funds and technical assistance to pilot WINGS in selected states. 

Challenges to Reform

Making lasting change in guardianship is challenging because:

  1. Practices differ significantly by state and by court;

  2. Cases are complex—often fraught with issues of mental illness, medication, family discord, undue influence, abuse and exploitation, service provider fragmentation, and lack of resources;

  3. Guardians constantly walk a fine line negotiating risks, protections, and self-determination, often with little guidance; and

  4. Resources are limited—funds, data, and research are scarce. 

This web page is supported, in part, by a grant No. 90EJIG0007-01-00  from the Administration for Community Living, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Grantees carrying out projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Therefore, points of view or opinions do not necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living or DHHS policy.