Supported Decision Making in Delaware
By Caitlin McAndrews, Esq., McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.
Supported decision making as a concept is the idea that individuals with or without disabilities may look to trusted friends and family for support in making important life decisions, particularly with regard to health care and finances. In the context of the disability community, supported decision making, abbreviated here as SDM, can provide a less restrictive alternative to guardianship, which is the process whereby a legal guardian is appointed by the Court who will then make important life decisions on behalf of the individual.
In states without specific SDM laws, individuals who wish to establish an SDM paradigm for themselves can often utilize Powers of Attorney, HIPAA releases, and other documents to ensure that their banking institutions, doctors, and schools will allow the people they choose to participate and assist in their decisions and care.
Some states, including Delaware, have passed state laws directly on the topic of SDM. In Delaware, an individual with a disability can sign an SDM agreement designating a trusted individual to be a “supporter.” Supporters can fill a variety of roles, including to assist the person signing the document – the “principal” – in understanding information and options regarding finances or medical care, help the Principal obtain information relevant to any life decisions, help the principal monitor his or her affairs or support services, ascertain the principal’s wishes and assist in communicating them.
Delaware requires that an SDM agreement be entered voluntarily by the principal and that the principal understand the agreement. The agreement must further state the types of decisions and actions the supporter is authorized to assist with. It can also state any decisions with which the supporter may not assist. Principals can designate more than one supporter, and can designate an alternate. The agreement must be signed, dated, and witnessed by two adults. The supporter must sign, declaring that they understand and agree to act in that role.
Delaware’s Department of Health and Social Services is creating a form that individuals can use to create these agreements. Agreements need not use the Department’s form, but they have to contain the elements of the form.
If you have questions about this process and whether it is appropriate for you or a loved one, please contact our office at (302) 380-4975.