Many people find themselves in the difficult position of knowing a loved one needs an elevated level of support and supervision this person is currently living without. If the person in need has not previously completed an Advanced Directive or Power of Attorney, the only remaining option may be for the concerned person to petition for guardianship. This process can seem overwhelming for all parties involved. For the petitioner, they may feel as though they are overstepping or trying to strip another of their autonomy. For the proposed person under guardianship, they may feel like they’re completely losing control of their lives. The largely negative news coverage concerning these kinds of matters does not help to quell these potentially overwhelming feelings.
Here in Vermont, we are fortunate the legislature’s approach to guardianship has been very respectful and conscious of the person in need’s rights and autonomy. The statute specifically states the guardian “must encourage development and maintenance of maximum self-reliance and independence…”14 V.S.A §3060. This goal is met in accordance with the “individual’s actual mental and adaptive limitations.” 14 V.S.A §3060. The Guardian has the duty to stay in close contact with the person under guardianship. 14 V.S.A §3071(a). Vermont Judges are very thorough when explaining the mechanics of guardianship and ensure their orders fully embody the spirit of our truly considerate guardianship statutes.
While a person under guardianship may feel like their world and rights have been irreparably limited, it is important to note that there are legal recourses to terminate a guardianship. It is also important to recognize that a person under guardianship retains certain fundamental rights, including but not limited to: The right to participate in decision making with the guardian, unless this person cannot recognize what is in their best interest, the right to retain and speak to attorneys and advocates of their choosing, choice of friends, right to be safe from harm, right to privacy, the freedom of religion, and the right to vote. 14 V.S.A. § 3068a.
The best way to avoid the difficulties a guardianship presents is to plan. Have difficult conversations with the ones you love. Tell the ones you love your end-of-life preferences, your beliefs, and wants. Better yet, you and your loved ones should have Advanced Directives and Power of Attorneys drafted by an attorney, saving the ones you love from any questions about who you would want to make decisions on your behalf or your preferences.
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Read our other articles to learn more about Vermont Adult Guardianship: