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Whether a petition for plenary guardianship should be granted. Matter of Eli T. 2018 NY Slip Op 28389


Guardianship in New York involves a legal arrangement where someone, known as a guardian, is appointed to make decisions on behalf of an individual who is unable to make decisions independently. This often arises in situations where the person, called the ward, faces challenges due to age, disability, or other incapacitating factors.

For adults, guardianship typically comes into play when an individual is deemed incapable of managing their personal and financial affairs. This could be due to intellectual disabilities, mental health issues, or other conditions that hinder their decision-making abilities.

In contrast, guardianship for children involves a legal relationship where an adult is appointed to care for and make decisions for a minor. This might happen when parents are unable to fulfill their parental responsibilities, either due to incapacity, death, or other circumstances.

Matter of Eli T., 2018 NY Slip Op 28389 involves a guardianship proceeding under Article 17-A of the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act, aiming to appoint Sarah T. and Solomon T. as guardians for Eli T., diagnosed with Down Syndrome. The court also considers the appointment of Chaim T. as a stand-by guardian.

Background Facts
Article 17-A governs guardianship for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Eli, with Down Syndrome, is the subject of the petition. The statute allows guardianship for those permanently incapable due to intellectual disability. The petitioners, Eli’s parents, seek plenary guardianship, which entirely removes the individual’s decision-making rights.

In New York, a plenary guardianship refers to a comprehensive and complete form of guardianship granted under Article 17-A of the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act. This legal arrangement involves the total removal of an individual’s legal right to make decisions regarding their own affairs. Typically applied to those diagnosed with intellectual or developmental disabilities, plenary guardianship vests decision-making authority entirely in the appointed guardian, limiting the ward’s autonomy. The court imposes this measure when it deems it necessary, and it is considered the most restrictive type of guardianship available in New York, allowing the guardian to make decisions across various aspects of the ward’s life.

A less restrictive type of guardianship in New York is governed by Article 81 of the Mental Hygiene Law. Unlike the plenary guardianship under Article 17-A, Article 81 guardianships are more tailored and flexible, allowing the court to grant specific powers to the guardian based on the individual’s needs. This approach focuses on preserving the person’s autonomy to the extent possible while providing assistance in areas where they may need support. The court can craft a guardianship order that addresses particular aspects of decision-making, making it a more individualized and less intrusive alternative compared to the comprehensive nature of plenary guardianship under Article 17-A.

Whether Eli, with cognitive limitations, necessitates a plenary guardianship or if less restrictive alternatives are more appropriate.

The court denies the petition for guardianship, emphasizing Eli’s capacity to make decisions with family support. Plenary guardianship under Article 17-A is viewed as the most restrictive, to be granted only in the absence of less restrictive alternatives.

The court relies on certifications from medical professionals, psychological evaluations, and Eli’s testimony to make a determination as to whether a plenary guardianship was appropriate.

Eli, a self-sufficient adult, not only holds down a job but also volunteers and manages his daily routine effectively. While Eli’s parents, the ones seeking guardianship, express worries about his health choices and weight, the evidence on hand doesn’t convincingly show that Eli is incapable or in harm’s way. The court strongly emphasizes the importance of looking at alternatives that are less restrictive. They highlight the fact that Eli is already well-supported by his family, and this existing support system should be a key factor in any decision. The court, in essence, points out that taking away Eli’s ability to make decisions entirely might not be the best solution, especially when there’s evidence that he manages well with the help and care he currently receives from his family.

The court concludes that imposing plenary guardianship is not in Eli’s best interest. His cognitive limitations coexist with decision-making capacity, and the support of a loving family aids him. The decision underscores the need to preserve an individual’s right to make decisions with assistance, promoting less restrictive alternatives over full guardianship. The petition is denied and dismissed.

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