Sometimes adults need help. Whether due to a progressive condition, sudden accident, or even just slowing down as we get older, having a little assistance from those we are closest to goes a long way.
Prior to this past year, however, getting loved ones officially authorized to assist us has been very difficult. Guardianship has always been an option, but that is a long and intensive process and is a last resort for people who are unable to function on their own anymore. Guardianship also requires a person to give up their legal rights as an individual. What if you or a loved one are mostly capable of living independently and only want to have someone help to make some difficult decisions?
That is exactly where Supported Decision-Making comes in.
The State of New Hampshire recently passed a law giving adults with disabilities who want assistance in making life decisions the ability to officially appoint someone to help them make those decisions when they need it. Adults can enter into a Supported Decision-Making Agreement with one or more people, known officially as “supporters.” These supporters can then review that person’s information, be in the room for important healthcare or financial conversations, ask important questions to providers, and otherwise participate in the decision-making process.
For example, if you had a Supported Decision-Making Agreement that allowed your supporter to help you make medical decisions and you gave them access to your medical information, your supporter could review your medical records, participate in talks with you and your doctor, and work with you to help make the best decision for you.
Unlike guardians, supporters are not considered surrogate decision-makers. This means they cannot make decisions for you or sign documents on your behalf. They can only access your protected information if it is specifically stated so in your agreement, and your agreement sets the boundaries for the extent to which they can access that information. Supported Decision-Making Agreements can be valid for a limited amount of time or be indefinite, and you can terminate them at any time. For financial decisions, you can also appoint another person as a monitor to ensure that your supporter is carrying out your wishes accurately.
Supporters also have fiduciary duties to the person they are supporting, also known as the “principal”. This means they must act loyally to their principal, act solely in their interest, and disclose and discuss any information they come across with their principal in good faith. They also cannot disclose a principal’s information without their consent.
This law is based on the idea that all adults should be able to choose to live in the manner they wish and be free to accept or refuse help as they want or need it. This law presumes that all adults can manage their own affairs and so entering into a Supported Decision-Making Agreement does not prevent a person from acting without their supporter.
If you or a loved one are looking for some help with some important decisions, putting together a Supported Decision-Making Agreement may be the best way to get the help you need without sacrificing your independence. For further information, please feel free to contact our office.