A supported decision-making agreement is a method of decision-making available to individuals with disability through an arrangement with another trusted person. These agreements give individuals with functional impairments the ability to create a formal arrangement for support that service providers must recognize, while retaining rights and self-direction that might otherwise be lost through guardianship or even by using power of attorney. These agreements are based on three principles: (1) that everyone has the right to make choices, (2) that people can get help making choices without giving up that right, and (3) that people will often need help in understanding, making and communicating their choices.
With supported decision-making agreements, the individual retains their right to make decisions. The individual can make their own decisions and they can identify areas of their life where they would like to have someone support them in their decision making. The supporter would assist the functionally impaired individual in gathering information, comparing the different options, as well as helping the individual communicate their decision to a third party. All the tasks that the supporter can assist with are only used to assist the functionally impaired individual and it does not give the supporter any legal authority over the individual. Therefore, these agreements can be useful in maintaining the impaired individual’s rights and self-direction.
These agreements can be used in combination with other legal arrangements, such as power of attorney and/or guardianship. These documents are not mutually exclusive and in fact can be used to complement each other. A supported decision-making agreement can help cover areas that are not traditionally covered by a power of attorney, such as housing, filing taxes or even choosing a service provider. Additionally, these agreements can be a way to transition an individual to more support when needed, especially in cases where the individual’s impairment gets worse over time.
It is important to note that a supported decision-making agreement is distinctly different from a power of attorney. Firstly, the supporter does not have any authority to make the decision for the individual. The impaired individual still retains their right to make the decision, whether or not the supporter agrees with the decision is irrelevant. Secondly, the supporter does not have the legal authority to sign documents for the impaired individual or bind that individual to a legal agreement. Lastly, the supporter is limited in their role by the specific terms of the agreement as determined by the impaired individual. Therefore, the impaired individual can specifically designate in what areas and to what extent the supporter is allowed to assist with the decision-making process.
In respect to guardianship proceedings, the presence of a supported decision-making agreement is not evidence of incapacity or incompetency. In fact, now during a guardianship proceeding, the judge must consider the use of alternatives to guardianship. These alternatives include whether a supported decision-making agreement has been attempted. Additionally, the judge may consider whether less restrictive means, such as a supported decision-making agreement, could be used in the situation. Therefore, it is important to consider whether a supported decision-making agreement would be a feasible possibility for an impaired individual prior to considering a full guardianship proceeding.
If considering entering into a supported decision-making agreement, it may be a good idea to get your attorney involved. When entering into these types of agreements, it is important to consider what areas you would like support in your decision-making and what kind of support you would want. You need to consider if you would like the supporter to gather information, help you understand your options and/or help you communicate those decisions. Additionally, it will be important to consider the person you would like to designate as your supporter. Who will be able to assist you the most effectively in making decisions in certain areas of your life? Due to all of these considerations that go into the process of drafting a supported decision-making agreement, it is important that an attorney assist you in making sure the agreement represents your wishes and provides you with the needed support you require in making decisions.