Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Lawmakers mull eliminating required legal counsel in some guardianship cases

Ty & Laura Anderson
FARMINGTON — The day after Ty Anderson turned 18, a mental health professional told his mother she could not longer sit in on his appointments because of federal medical privacy laws.

Ty Anderson has been diagnosed with classical autism, his mother says. He is unable to speak and can become combative if he is scared or in an unfamiliar environment.

Within a matter of minutes, Laura Anderson was summoned to the office because the evaluation was floundering. "I was told, 'I guess it would be OK for you to come in.'"

The episode was instructive, said Anderson, who is president of the Autism Council of Utah.

Her son may be an adult according to the calendar, but he is unable to talk to health care providers to make decisions about his care. He does not know how to manage money and he needs assistance with daily living skills such as bathing, food preparation and dressing.

For Anderson "to continue to be his mom," she will need to petition a court to seek guardianship of her son, who is now 19.

The process has begun and thanks to some recent changes in Utah, seeking guardianship isn't an onerous as it once was. Earlier this year, the Utah Legislature passed legislation sponsored by Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, which lowered the court filing fee from $360 to $35.

The fee was an impediment for some families so they would not file the petitions. They risked being unable to act on behalf of their adult children with profound disabilities when it came time to making critical medical and financial decisions, Anderson said.

It's not something Anderson said she is willing to leave to chance.

Edwards said her goals in sponsoring the legislation and working with the state Administrative Office of the Courts was to reduce the filing fees and streamline the process of filing guardianship petitions.

"This was sort of how to attack the main problems. It's expensive. It's complex and it's a pain in the neck," she said.

The courts have significantly improved online filing processes, she said. A pool of attorneys who can represent the parties pro bono has been assembled, which should further help families.

While some people also want further changes to state law that would eliminate — in certain circumstances — the requirement that young adults also be represented by legal counsel when a guardianship petition is filed, Edwards said advocates for people with disabilities convinced her that the requirement is needed.

"It really came down to this is what makes America great: Everyone has that right to be represented as an individual," she said.

Kaye Becker, who works as a paraeducator at Davis School District's Vista Education Campus in Farmington, which serves student with a wide array of disabilties, said her household spent nearly $3,500 so she could become her 25-year-old son's guardian.

Becker said she felt strongly that her son have his own legal representation because she wanted to be sure that the process was handled correctly and that his rights were protected. Her son works part-time as a school janitor but he is hearing impaired and has intellectual disabilities.

To avoid conflicts of interest, Becker had her son pay his legal fees.

"Someone has to make sure someone is looking out for Jeremy so no one is taking advantage of him," she said.

As part of obtaining the guardianship, Becker was also able to name a successor to look after her son's medical and financial issues when she is no longer able.  (Continue Reading)

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Lawmakers mull eliminating required legal counsel in some guardianship cases


StandUp said...

Boy am I on the fence here. I support almost anything to make it easier on parents with adult children with disabilities. Yet, we also can't assume that ALL parents don't take advantage of the adult children.

A person with profound disabilities should not be forced into guardianship. There's got to be a better way.

Al said...

I believe there is a better way, Stand Up. Surrogate decision-making for these cases only. Surrogate decision-making dispenses with court costs.