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Professor Nina Kohn: Summit Recommendation Will “Fundamentally Reshape Guardianship Practice in the US”

Posted on Thursday 6/3/2021
Nina Kohn

Guardianship—the process by which a court appoints a surrogate decision-maker for a person found unable to make decisions for themselves—has been the subject of recent extensive criticism, in part because of the #FreeBrittany movement related to singer Britney Spears’ conservatorship case.

Across May 10-14, the National Guardianship Network held its Fourth National Guardianship Summit, hosted by Syracuse University College of Law and the Syracuse Law Review. The nation’s leading experts in guardianship and its alternatives convened to chart an agenda for reforming guardianship law and practice. They adopted several innovative recommendations, including the abolition of plenary (unlimited) guardianship.

The Summit’s full list of recommendations are available on Syracuse Law’s website. They subsequently will be published—alongside the articles prepared to inform the Summit’s deliberations—in a future issue of the Law Review.

“Summit participants were voting delegates from national organizations focused on disability rights, elder law, and guardianship, as well as a diverse group of observers, including more than a dozen international advocates and scholars,” says Professor Nina Kohn, a specialist in guardianship and conservatorship and one of the experts who organized the Summit. “Participants debated and voted on a series of concrete recommendations that will serve to guide policy in the coming decade.”

Recommendations adopted by the Summit are groundbreaking, observes Kohn, including the abolition of plenary guardianship. “The Summit recommended that states instead require all guardianships to be tailored to the individual’s specific situation,” says Kohn. “If adopted, this approach will fundamentally reshape guardianship practice in the United States. Most guardianships currently in place are plenary, stripping those who are subject to them all rights that can possibly be stripped under state law.”

Adds Kohn, “As with the 2013 Third Summit, the 2021 Fourth Summit proved to be a consensus conference that has adopted a far-reaching set of recommendations for guardian standards, as well as additional recommendations for action by courts, legislatures, and other entities.”