Supported Decision-Making in Virginia, Maryland, and DC


Supported Decision-Making (SDM) in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, covering Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, is a relatively new and  innovative approach designed to empower individuals who have difficulty making decisions — often young adults with developmental or intellectual disabilities — to make decisions about their own lives, with support from a network of trusted allies. SDM is typically done along with Level 1 Planning, also known as incapacity planning, which includes a Power of Attorney and an Advance Medical Directive, documents that all competent adults should have in place.

What is Supported Decision-Making?

Supported Decision-Making is a person-centered alternative to guardianship and conservatorship, promoting autonomy and self-determination. It allows individuals who have difficulty making decisions — often young adults with developmental or intellectual disabilities — to actively participate in decision-making processes with the assistance of trusted supporters.

Legal Framework in Virginia:

In Virginia, Supported Decision-Making is recognized and supported by law at Virginia Code Section section37.2-314.3. The Commonwealth emphasizes the importance of personal choice and control, offering individuals the right to choose their supporters and determine the scope of assistance needed. More information, from the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, can be found here.

Maryland’s Perspective:

Maryland recognizes the significance of empowering individuals to make choices that affect their lives. Supported Decision-Making is seen as a valuable tool for enhancing personal autonomy while ensuring that necessary support is available. The state provides resources to help individuals understand and implement SDM effectively. The Maryland Developmental Disability Council offers this Fact-Sheet about Supported Decision-Making in Maryland.

Navigating the Landscape in Washington D.C.:

In the District of Columbia, Supported Decision-Making is recognized as a viable option for individuals seeking to retain decision-making authority. D.C. prioritizes person-centered approaches and encourages the use of SDM agreements for students turning 18, and others, as a means of formalizing supportive relationships. Here’s a page about Supported Decision-Making from the DC Public School System, and here’s a page from the DC Department on Disability Services.

Key Persons and Elements Involved in Supported Decision-Making:

  1. Decision Makers: The Individuals with disabilities entering into a Supported Decision-Making Agreement.
  2. Supporters: Individuals can choose their supporters, who may include family members, friends, or professionals.
  3. Supported Decision-Making Facilitator. The person selected by the Decision Maker to help oversee the agreement. This position is optional and the person named can be both a Supporter and the Supported Decision-Making Facilitator.
  4. Supported Decision-Making Agreements: SDM agreements are legal documents that outline the individual’s preferences, values, and the scope of decision-making authority granted to supporters.
  5. Decision-Making Process: The individual Decision Maker, to the greatest extent possible, actively participates in decision-making, with supporters providing information, guidance, and assistance as needed.
  6. Regular Reviews: Periodic reviews ensure that the support arrangements align with the individual’s evolving needs and preferences.

Resources and Support Services:

  1. Local Advocacy Groups: Connect with local organizations that advocate for disability rights and provide resources on Supported Decision-Making.
  2. Legal Assistance: Seek legal guidance to draft SDM agreements and ensure compliance with state-specific laws.
  3. Training and Workshops: Attend workshops and training sessions to better understand the principles and implementation of Supported Decision-Making.
  4. Get Further Information: National Resource Center for Supported Decision-Making and Center for Public Representation.


Supported Decision-Making as a formal legal process is a relatively new concept intended to promote personal autonomy, choice, and independence. As Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C. recognize and support this approach, individuals in the region have the opportunity to take control of their lives while enjoying the necessary support to help make informed decisions. The Farr Law Firm can assist you and your family with preparing an appropriate Supported Decision-Making Agreement along with the vital Level 1 Planning documents.

Print This Page