Washington implements guardianship reforms

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All nonprofessional guardians for people with disabilities in Washington State will be required to undergo on-line training and have their licenses periodically renewed, under a new bill that went into effect July 22.

Prior to filing a petition, prospective guardians will be required to complete a free on-line training regarding their duties as guardians. The training will also inform the potential guardians of alternatives to guardianship, such as serving as a payee to manage an individual with disabilities’ finances, or a power of attorney.

Training was previously required only for professional guardians, defined as those who are guardians for three or more residents or are paid to serve in their roles as guardians.

“This bill makes sure that all guardians in Washington will have been trained on their roles and responsibilities,” said David Lord, director of public policy at DisAbility Rights Washington.

The new bill also creates “expiration dates” for guardianships. Under state law, the guardianships are supposed to be renewed every one to three years. However, Lord said that guardianships often go years without being reviewed by the courts, prompting the need to impose “expiration dates” to motivate guardians to renew their guardianships.

“It will improve the compliance of guardians with their reporting requirement and will make it easier for courts to determine whether they are doing their jobs,” Lord said.

The changes are among the recommendations published in a 2009 report by the Guardianship Task Force of the Washington State Bar Association’s Elder Law Section.

Among the other recommendations that Lord, a member of task force, said he would like to see implemented in future legislative sessions are the creation of an active monitoring process for guardians, the development of an improved guardianship complaint process and consistent court data collection procedures.