Nonprofits seek to change Minnesota’s guardianship system

Published 10:16 am Tuesday, December 13, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS — A coalition of Minnesota nonprofits is developing an alternative to a system in which vulnerable adults live under the supervision of a court-appointed guardian who has broad authority over the money, medical care and personal relationships of their wards.

Volunteers of America of Minnesota and Wisconsin is creating the system with help from a $1 million federal grant, the Star Tribune reported. The group will connect vulnerable adults with relatives and social workers who have expertise in caring for people with disabilities.

In order to build the system, Volunteers of America has plans to create a center to promote supported decision making for older persons and adults with disabilities.

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Advocates have said the approach known as “supportive decision making,” would allow more flexibility for vulnerable adults. The goal is to figure out areas where a client needs help making decisions and then developing a customized plan.

“Guardianship is a forced bludgeon,” said Amanda Vickstrom, executive director of the Minnesota Elder Justice Center in St. Paul, one of the groups spearheading the new effort. “Before we strip away all of a person’s rights, we have a duty to explore less-restrictive alternatives.”

Advocates said hundreds of Minnesota residents could regain control over basic decisions such as where to live, whom to date and how to spend their money if the model catches on.

“This has the potential to be a revolutionary approach,” said Anita Raymond, project director at Volunteers of America. “We are seeking to change the culture in Minnesota of defaulting to the use of guardianship.”

Minnesota courts receive 1,500 to 2,000 petitions for guardianship each year. Judges often grant them unlimited powers under the law.

In 2015, Texas became the first state to recognize supported decision making agreements as legal alternatives to guardians.