One of the advantages of being an adult is having the ability to make your own decisions, whether good or bad. Usually, we consult family members, friends, or professionals for guidance when making different types of decisions, from buying a car, to picking a healthcare provider, to managing our finances. Some of our loved ones need more help than others when making these types of decisions. The State of Wisconsin recently introduced Supported-Decision Making Agreements to empower people to make their own choices in an attempt to improve their quality of life.
What is a Supported Decision-Making Agreement?
A Supported Decision-Making Agreement is a written document that is signed by a person needing support and a trusted friend, family member, or professional (called a "Supporter"). The purpose of a Supported Decision-Making Agreement is to allow adults with a functional impairment to designate Supporters to help access information, to assist in understanding information, to ensure the person's voice is heard, and to help carry out decisions. The individual could have a Supporter for each area needing support.
When to use a Supported Decision-Making Agreement
The Supporter can have as big or small a role as the person needing support would like. For example, the person may want a supporter to attend medical appointments, visit the bank, or help secure housing. With a Supported Decision-Making Agreement in place, the Supporters have a document to show third parties that confirms their role in the process. While specific authority can be given to the Supporter, the Agreement does not allow the Supporter to make decisions for the person. The Supporter is not a surrogate decision maker. The individual needing support sets the parameters for each Supporter's authority and may terminate the Agreement at any time.
How is a Supported Decision-Making Agreement different than Powers of Attorney or Guardianship?
The individual needing support remains the decision-maker and makes his or her own educated decision with input from the support system. In some situations, a Supported Decision-Making Agreement could be an alternative to guardianship that gives the individual the opportunity to be more independent and well adjusted. For example, an adult child with autism may need assistance accessing information on job training, education, support services, and managing public benefits. The adult child wants his parent to attend meetings or speak with third parties on his behalf about these issues, but the adult child wants to ultimately make the decision on where he will attend school or what support services he will need. One could argue that a Power of Attorney may accomplish the same goals, but in this example, it would restrict the adult child's self-determination. With a Supported-Decision Making Agreement, the adult child is enabled to make his own life choices.
There are also situations where a Supported Decision-Making Agreement may not be suitable or it may create the potential for abuse, such as an individual with diminished capacity who can be unduly influenced or financially exploited.
Every situation is unique and requires its own specific plan. A Supported Decision-Making Agreement does not altogether replace the need for Powers of Attorney or Guardianship in most cases. It is always wise for an individual to execute a General Durable Power of Attorney, a Power of Attorney for Health Care, and other advanced directives in the event of incapacity. However, a Supported Decision-Making Agreement can be a helpful tool that allows individuals to maintain their right to make decisions when they have the capacity to do so.