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Legislature eliminates legal counsel requirement for disabled adults if parents seek guardianships

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah will no longer require that disabled adults whose biological or adoptive parents petition courts to become their legal guardians have their own legal counsel under a bill passed Thursday by Utah lawmakers.

HB101, which was opposed by members of Utah’s disability community and the Utah State Bar, gives judges the final say whether a potential ward needs legal representation in a guardianship proceeding.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City, says the exception applies only to guardianship petitions filed by biological or adoptive parents and if the potential ward’s assets are less than $20,000.

“The court must be satisfied that counsel is not necessary in order to protect the interests of the person,” said Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, speaking in support of the bill.

Senate co-sponsor Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said the legislation affects him personally, both as the father of an adult child with disabilities and an attorney.

Many parents in the same circumstance, “I dare say, are elderly and don’t have a lot of money,” he said.

They are parents who have raised a child with disabilities from birth, have with their best interests at heart but need guardianships to continue to help guide their child's medical, legal and financial affairs once they reach adulthood, Hillyard said.

But Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said he worries about the “rare and uncommon cases” of people who are not capable of acting as guardians or those who seek guardianships to take advantage of their children.

“The disability community is saying, ‘No. Stop. Wait. This bill is not appropriate,'" Weiler said.

The Utah Senate voted 15-10 to give final approval to the bill.