Texas Guardianship System Leads to Civil Death for Many

Posted on

September 13, 2022

Edie Surtees, Communications Director

Broken Texas Guardianship System Results in Civil Death for Many with Disabilities

AUSTIN—Ruby C. of Lubbock, Texas, had the ability to make her own decisions and be independent, but instead she was under an unnecessary guardianship and experiencing a loss of self and her civil rights. She wrote countless letters to the judge overseeing her case, asking to have the guardianship terminated and her rights restored. Although Ruby was taking the appropriate steps to regain her independence, she was denied her constitutional right to due process, and someone else continued to make her decisions for her.

A new report from Disability Rights Texas (DRTx), Overcoming Civil Death, exposes the broken system that imprisons many Texans with disabilities like Ruby in unnecessary guardianships that limit their freedom and independence. Many people with disabilities have the capacity to have their rights restored, make their own decisions, and be a part of their community. And in many cases, the law is already in place to allow this to happen. But due to various obstacles, many people with disabilities remain in unnecessary guardianships and experience what is known as civil death.

“When I was in the guardianship, it felt like I had someone doing all my thinking for me,” said Ruby. “I didn’t feel like I was living my life. And I just didn’t feel like I was myself because someone was always controlling everything.”

“The guardianship system in Texas is broken for people with disabilities,” said Jeff Miller, policy specialist with DRTx. “Texas is good on paper – what we have in the Estates Code should ensure people with disabilities have access to due process – but what’s in code and what actually happens are two different things. People with disabilities are being denied due process and ultimately being denied their civil rights.”

Overcoming Civil Death highlights the barriers to due process that prevent people with disabilities from successfully terminating a guardianship and having their rights restored. The report also includes straightforward solutions for addressing these barriers so more Texans with disabilities can have their rights restored and have control over their lives. Recommendations include:

  • Guaranteeing that a person has the right to hire their own attorney
  • Ensuring attorneys zealously advocate for the individual’s expressed wishes
  • Ensuring courts conduct meaningful, periodic reviews of the individual’s situation

“I don’t have the guardianship anymore – I feel like I can breathe again,” said Linda W. from Tyler, Texas. “I feel like I have my freedom…and I was able to live in the community again and have a real life, be able to go to church again, be able to walk outside.”

Read the full report, Overcoming Civil Death: A Report on Needed Legal Reforms for People Seeking Restoration of Rights. For an overview of the report, watch the Overcoming Civil Death video.

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Disability Rights Texas is the federally designated legal protection and advocacy agency (P&A) for people with disabilities in Texas established in 1977. Its mission is to help people with disabilities understand and exercise their rights under the law, ensuring their full and equal participation in society. Visit www.DRTx.org for more information.