McEachin Calls for Reforms to U.S. Guardianship System Amid Ongoing Britney Spears Legal Battle

July 20, 2021
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra calling for reforms to the U.S. adult guardianship system and the adoption of supported decision-making.

Adult guardianships, or conservatorships, refer to the legal process used when an individual is perceived or deemed to be no longer capable of making personal decisions about their person or property. In these circumstances, a guardian or conservator is typically appointed by the court to make decisions regarding an individual’s personal and financial affairs, resulting in a significant loss of civil rights and risks of financial exploitation.

The letter reads,

“As recent events have demonstrated, such as the circumstances concerning Britney Spears and her conservatorship, significant reforms are needed to address civil rights abuses. I urge you to adopt the recommendations concerning supported decision-making adopted at the National Guardianship Network’s Fourth National Guardianship Summit, which would increase autonomy and vastly improve accountability in the guardianship system.”

Rep. McEachin outlined specific recommendations to bolster supported decision-making, an arrangement in which an incapacitated individual retains their decision-making capacity by choosing supporters to help them make personal and financial decisions. Unlike a guardianship, an individual using supported decision-making retains their civil rights and is thus less likely to suffer from abuses and exploitation.

Rep. McEachin urged consideration and adoption of the following recommendations:

  1. HHS, in partnership with states and National Guardianship Network organizations, should provide education, training, and outreach programs about supported decision-making as an alternative to guardianship. These resources should be directed toward those at risk of or subject to guardianship, and efforts must be made to ensure targeted outreach to marginalized, underrepresented populations.
  2. HHS, in partnership with Congress, should work to expand supported decision-making through the promotion and expansion of federally funded pilot projects. These pilot projects, if done correctly, should target diverse and marginalized populations, including those with differing disabilities, and should establish and scale up best practices to help address disparities in the quality of care.
  3. The Department of Justice (DOJ) must ensure that courts seriously consider supported decision-making as an alternative to guardianship, not only during the initial appointment, but periodically thereafter. This includes requiring evidence that supported decision-making was affectively tried as an alternative, or why it is not a feasible option.
  4. DOJ, in conjunction with federal and state agencies, must recognize supported decision-making as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended.

The letter continues,

“Adoption of these recommendations would be a positive and critical first step toward restoring civil rights for more than a million Americans across the country. Every individual, regardless of whether they have a disability or not, deserves a life of dignity and respect. Implementing these recommendations regarding supported decision-making would help to significantly address current and future abuses under the guardianship system.”

Read the full letter here.