Need for Guardianship Reform

Guardianship is an ancient legal device dating back to early Greece and the Roman Empire.  It protects at-risk individuals and provides for their needs.  At the same time, because it removes fundamental rights, it should be considered a last resort when no appropriate less restrictive alternatives are available.

With the aging of the population and rising numbers of persons with mental disabilities, adult guardianship has received increased scrutiny in the last 30 years.  The history of guardianship reform shows a marked advance in law but uneven implementation in practice. Guardianship reform laws have focused on five related areas:

  • Stronger procedural due process protections in the appointment process;
  • A more functional determination of an individual’s abilities and limitations as the basis for guardianship;
  • Changes in duties and powers of guardians, and provisions for limited guardianship orders;
  • Guardian accountability and court monitoring; and
  • Public and agency guardianship.

For a complete review up to 2005, see “History of Guardianship,” by Erica Wood, in Quinn, Mary Joy, Guardianships of Adults: Achieving Justice, Autonomy, and Safety, Springer Publishing Company (2005).