Supported Decision Making

“Supported Decision Making is a recognized alternative to guardianship where people with disabilities use trusted friends, family members, and professionals to help them understand the situations and choices they face, so they may make their own decisions without the ‘need’ for a guardian” (Blanck & Martinis, 2015).

Supported Decision Making is an alternative to the use of court-based guardianship actions. According to MN statute (2020), Supported Decision Making (SDM) “means assistance from one or more persons of an individual’s choosing in understanding the nature and consequences of potential personal and financial decisions which enables the individual to make the decisions and, when consistent with the individual’s wishes, in communicating a decision once made.”

Further, SDM is a person-centered approach to decision-making. SDM recognizes that all people, including elders and people with disabilities, need at least occasional help to make decisions and acknowledges that if a person does need support to make decisions, they are still able to participate in decision-making.  Rather than using a court process such as guardianship to take away the person’s legal ability to make decisions about their life, SDM empowers the person to make decisions with the support of trusted family/friends/professionals. These trusted supporters help the person understand the benefits and risks of their choices to make decisions. People who feel that they have positive control over their own lives are less likely to be victims of abuse and exploitation, so the presence of supporters and the ability of the person to make choices may serve to keep them safer and happier than traditional guardianship.

Some jurisdictions, including Delaware, Texas, and Canada have enacted legislation allowing a person to designate their supporters to assist with decisions in any and all areas of life, thus building a strong circle of supporters, who are recognized by health care, social services, and other providers as part of the person’s decision making team.

While MN does not have supported decision making legislation at this time, statute does name SDM as a less restrictive alternative. In Minnesota, the person may choose to formalize the roles of people on the team by appointing supporters in roles legally recognized in Minnesota, such as health care agents for health care decisions and attorneys-in-fact for financial decisions under Power of Attorney documents.

Nationally, SDM is increasingly recognized as a best practice to support adults to make decisions without formalized court actions.  Minnesota Department of Human Services, in partnership with WINGS MN, has produced a series of training videos about Supported Decision Making, which you can find here: Introduction and Guide to Supported Decision Making in Minnesota.  For more information, visit or watch a series of 4 videos explaining Supported Decision-Making and other Guardianship terms featuring Bud Rosenfield, Ombusdman and produced by the MN Gov Council on Developmental Disabilities.