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Coming of age at 18 for a young adult with a disability poses many new challenges that a family needs to consider. For students with or without disabilities, the age 18 affords all the rights and responsibilities normally associated with adulthood. For our young adults, this would include approving their own IEP, making decisions about and authorizing medical procedures, registering for the draft (if male), authorizing the release of confidential records, and applying for any services that may be appropriate (such as SSI, etc.).

For many young adults, this is just as it should be, as they are capable of making informed choices when presented with complex issues. For others, there may be some parts of their life that they can make decisions for themselves and some parts where they need guidance (partial guardianship). For others, another adult may need to be appointed by the court to make virtually all decisions (financial, medical, legal) on the young adult’s behalf (court-appointed guardian).

Guardianship is a legal arrangement whereupon an individual (or ward) is formally declared by Probate Court to be “incompetent” or unable to make certain decisions for themselves. The court then appoints another adult to make such decisions. The appointed guardian is often a family member, but, if necessary, the guardian can be from a public guardianship agency. Guardianship can be shared between co-guardians and it can also be temporary. Guardianship can be full (covering most aspects of the individual’s life) or partial (covering the aspects spelled out in the court decree).

Another legal option to consider is Power of Attorney. This is a legal document that must be notarized, in which a person delegates to someone else a part of their authority to make legal and or medical decisions.

Regardless of the level of disability, your young adult will have all the rights and responsibilities afforded to other American citizens at age 18, unless a court has declared differently. If you feel your child will need assistance making decisions, you should explore the different options with guardianship and the process to apply and, if appropriate, submit an application through your county probate court when your child turns 18 years old. It does not automatically happen.

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Introduction | Federal Definition of Transition Services
Transition Planning | Critical Connections | Other Useful Information