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Public Guardianship for Adults with Developmental Disabilities

Public guardians acting under court authority, provide guardianship for adults with developmental disabilities. The mission of the program is to assist and empower people under guardianship in making decisions and taking actions in critical life areas.

Public guardians seek to diminish the need for public guardianship by identifying, training and assisting private guardians, by encouraging and preparing individuals to make their own decisions, and by developing supportive community resources.

To be considered for public guardianship, a person must

  • Be a resident of Vermont.
  • Be over 18 years of age.
  • Have a diagnosis of developmental disability.
  • Require assistance with basic life decisions.
  • Have no responsible adult actively assisting the person to make basic life decisions.

Alternative to Guardianship

Petition for Guardianship for Adults with Developmental Disabilities
A petition for public guardianship for a person with developmental disabilities may be filled out by any interested person who knows the person.  Petition for Public Guardianship for a Person with Developmental Disabilities

Fill out the form (except for Section 2) and deliver the petition to the State's Attorney's office for the county where the person is living.  States Attorney's Offices in Vermont:

The State's Attorney (or deputy state's attorney) then completes the form and files the petition with the Family Court for the county where the person is living. The Family Court appoints an attorney from the Vermont Disability Law Project to represent the individual, and orders the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living to obtain a comprehensive evaluation to determine whether the person needs a public guardian. Typically, the court makes a decision granting or denying guardianship within 60 - 90 days after the petition is filed.

Probate courts can also place an individual with a developmental disability under temporary public guardianship if that person needs a guardian and no suitable private guardian can be located.

Powers of Guardianship
A court order for public guardianship for a person with developmental disabilities can be for limited or full guardianship. The court will only grant guardianship in the specific areas where the person needs a guardian. Vermont law authorizes public guardianship for people with developmental disabilities in the following areas:

  • General Supervision:  This includes choosing or changing the residence, care, habilitation, education, and employment of the respondent and the power to approve or withhold approval of the sale or encumbrance of real property of the respondent;
  • Contracts:  The power to approve or withhold approval of any contract, by or in the name of the respondent;
  • Legal: The power to obtain legal advice and to commence or defend against judicial actions in the name of the respondent;
  • Medical/Dental:  The power to seek, obtain, and give consent to initiation and continuation of medical and dental treatment.

More specific information can be found in Vermont State Statute: 18 V.S.A. §9313 (a).

If the Family Court decides the person needs a public guardian, it appoints the Commissioner of the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living guardian. The Commissioner delegates his/her authority to staff.

Public Guardians
Each individual in the program is assigned to one of the Public Guardians, who are full time state employees highly experienced in supporting people with disabilities. The Public Guardian makes regular home visits to the people they serve and take part in planning and monitoring. They make sure people have the supports they need to be safe, and work to protect them from abuse and exploitation. They help people to make their wishes and needs known, to become more independent, and to make connections with friends and family. They provide friendship and support in self-advocacy, a trusted and impartial advocate, protection of legal rights, approval or denial of contracts, assistance in sale or purchase of property, and participation in Individual Support Agreements. As medical guardians, Public Guardians provide active medical advocacy and coordination and make decisions about medical treatment.

When Public Guardians face challenging ethical questions in medical situations, they seek advice and review by the Developmental Disabilities Services Division's Ethics Committee. The Ethics Committee is governed by the Division's End of Life Care Decision Making Guidelines.

Review, Modification and Termination

  • A person with developmental disabilities who is under public guardianship may appeal a decision by the program to the Family Court.
  • The person under guardianship or any other person with a direct interest in the individual may petition the Family Court to modify or terminate an order of guardianship.
  • A person with a developmental disability who wants help to appeal a guardianship decision or to modify or terminate a decision may get legal assistance from Vermont Legal Aid.
  • The entire text of the law is at Vermont Code Chapter 215, Guardianship Services for People with Developmental Disabilities. 18 V.S.A. §§ 9301 – 9316.
  • Procedures for Review of Public Guardianship Decisions - These procedures describe how people affected by a decision of a Public guardian may obtain a review of the decision.

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