Individuals with disabilities retain their civil rights and ability to make choices—even when they have a court-appointed guardian.

By Jamie Strawbridge

Brown, Goldstein & Levy represented a delightful 65-year-old woman with a brain injury who is unable to make complex life decisions. That’s why, soon after she suffered a tragic brain injury 30 years ago that resulted in her disability, a Maryland court initially appointed her mother and father as co-guardians. But individuals like our client who have a court-appointed guardian still retain their civil rights and their right to express preferences and desires, and guardians must respect those preferences and desires unless doing so could cause significant health and safety concerns. In fact, under Maryland law, guardians have a duty to honor the preferences, choices, and wishes of individuals for whom they serve as guardians. Too often, guardians fail to do so, depriving those with disabilities of the freedoms to which they are entitled—as happened to our client.

The remaining guardian in this case—her mother—had the power to make decisions about our client’s medical care, housing, and day-to-day life. Because the guardian was also the representative payee for purposes of her social security benefits and Trustee of a special needs trust, the guardian also had control over our client’s finances and could decide how much money our client had available to spend at any given moment.

For years, the guardian failed to act in our client’s best interests and did not honor our client’s  preferences—both with respect to how our client wanted to live her life and her finances. When our client explained where she wanted to live, her guardian did not listen. When our client stressed that she wanted to continue working with certain residential support services staff in Maryland that she had known for years, her guardian ignored her. And when our client  expressed her interest in pursuing classes or vacation or social outings, her guardian denied her those opportunities. The guardian’s actions deprived our client of the ability to live a full and productive life.

Such actions not only disrespect individuals with disabilities—they run afoul of the fiduciary duties that guardians owe to those they are responsible for protecting. Guardians do not have unfettered control, and, indeed, are legally obligated to act in the individual’s best interest. Maryland courts supervise guardianships to ensure guardians do not abuse their powers since, as a matter of law, the ultimate guardian is the Court. In this case, the Circuit Court for Montgomery County held a two-day trial and ultimately concluded that our client’s guardian had violated her fiduciary duties by completely failing to honor our client’s preferences, choices, and wishes. As a result, the court removed our client’s mother as guardian and substituted a new guardian—our client’s sister—in her place.

“The court decision this month was a victory for our client and for individuals across Maryland who have disabilities and court-appointed guardians,” said Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum, the managing partner of Brown, Goldstein & Levy, who represented this wonderful client. “The decision affirms that individuals with disabilities who have guardians still have the right to determine how they want to live their lives.”

The attorneys at Brown, Goldstein & Levy have vast experience representing individuals with disabilities. BGL assists such individuals as part of its nationwide disability rights practice, which strives to ensure that individuals in Maryland and around the country receive the accommodations they need when visiting a hospital, receiving health care in the home, attending a baseball game, taking a standardized test, or logging onto a website. If you or a loved one are suffering at the hands of a guardian, consider contacting us today to discuss your situation.

Authored by

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Jamie Strawbridge Associate