When Is Guardianship Necessary?

As a judge overturned a court-ordered guardianship and conservatorship for Cindy Hagen, who has been residing in the Mayo Clinic’s Austin, Minnesota facility since last summer, the case that has been closely monitored by disability advocates appears to be coming to an end.

Hagen, 49, sustained severe injuries in a car accident when she was a child. The accident left her quadriplegic. She was placed under emergency guardianship earlier this year after attempts to discharge her to an appropriate facility were unsuccessful.

Blue Earth County Human Services petitioned the courts for guardianship. Court documents show that the county couldn’t find in-home care for Hagen. She previously had lived in an apartment in Mankato, MN. Like the rest of the nation, there is a shortage of home healthcare workers in Minnesota.

As an alternative, Hagen was offered services in a skilled nursing facility or at an apartment in the Twin Cities. She declined both offers according to court documents.

Recent legislative changes make it harder to put people living with disabilities under guardianship. But courts and families have been slow to embrace those changes, according to David Dively, executive director of the Minnesota Council on Disability.

According to a 2018 estimate from the National Council on Disability, about 1.3 million people in the United States are under guardianship. They include elderly Americans who are unable to manage their affairs, as well as a large number of younger people, some of whom have intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Adults under guardianship can’t choose where they live, which doctors they see, what medications they take, or what type of care they get. In some cases, those requiring a guardian also cannot vote. To have their right to vote reinstated, they must go before a judge. Some studies show the number of persons living under guardianship has increased by more than threefold in the last three decades.

There are some alternatives available, including supportive decision-making. Supportive decision making enables people with disabilities to pick who will assist them in gathering and understanding information, making decisions, and communicating those decisions to others. It protects a person’s right to make significant life decisions for themselves and to have those decisions respected by the other people they chose.

Disabled people should be able to make their own decisions about their life if they are able to. The right to bodily autonomy shouldn’t be taken away. Disabled people have a right to safety, support, and care on their terms, not because they meet the legal requirements that allow them to be independent, but rather because they are human.


Alternatives to Guardianship and/or Conservatorship.” Alternatives to Guardianship and/or Conservatorship | Maricopa County, AZ, Maricopa County, http://www.maricopa.gov/5271/Alternatives-to-Guardianship-andor-Conse.

Fessler, Pam. “Disabled And Fighting For The Right To Vote.” NPR, NPR, 4 Sept. 2016, http://www.npr.org/2016/09/04/492430780/disabled-and-fighting-for-the-right-to-vote.

Morris, Amanda. “Britney Spears’s Case Calls Attention to Wider Questions on Guardianship.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 July 2021, http://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/10/us/britney-spears-conservatorships-guardianships.html.

Richert, Catharine. “Woman in Legal Limbo at Mayo Cleared to Go Home.” MPR News, NPR, 29 Mar. 2023, https://www.mprnews.org/story/2023/03/28/woman-in-legal-limbo-at-mayo-cleared-to-go-home.

Serres, Chris. “Minnesota Woman Wins Legal Victory in Bid to Free Herself from Guardianship.” Star Tribune, Star Tribune Media Company, LLC, 4 Apr. 2023, https://m.startribune.com/guardianship-disabilities-minnesota-rights-mankato-mayo-clinic-civil-rights-court-britney-spears/600264573/.

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