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What to know about guardianships for special needs relatives

On Behalf of | Jan 17, 2024 | Estate Planning

Children with disabilities require special attention, care and assistance to ensure that they can live a successful, full life with access to the right tools and opportunities. However, when they turn 18 years old, their parents generally lose the legal right to make decisions for them.

This transition can lead to a lot of uncertainty and anxiety for parents or loved ones who care for these individuals. Guardianship may be the right solution to ensure that a young adult with special needs continues to receive the necessary care and support.

What a guardianship accomplishes

Over 7 million people in the United States have an intellectual or developmental disability. Over 11% of those individuals reside in New York City, and thousands more live throughout New York State and New Jersey, all requiring varying levels of assistance.

“Guardianship” is a legal proceeding in which the court appoints a responsible person to exercise the legal rights of an adult with special needs. The person under the protection of the guardian is a “ward.” Often, a family sets up this arrangement when a person will be unable to make their own decisions due to a disability.

The guardian has the legal authority to make decisions on the ward’s behalf concerning their personal, financial and health matters. The range of decisions a guardian is responsible for can vary based on the needs of the individual and the specific terms of the guardianship.

Those who can serve as a guardian

In New York and New Jersey, parents, relatives, friends or qualified professionals can apply to become guardians of disabled adults. Institutions or agencies may not become guardians unless they have a special license.

In New York, a concerned individual would ask the court to appoint an Article 17-A guardian. In New Jersey, the application is Title 30 Guardianship. Parents can also utilize estate planning tools to ensure a responsible person continues to serve as a guardian if the parents happen to die or become unable to care for the child.

What to do if the individual is high-functioning

A high-functioning child with special needs may not require a full guardianship plan, as they may be able to make some decisions on their own. In these cases, parents or loved ones can explore a limited guardianship plan. Under these circumstances, the guardian will be responsible for making certain decisions in the child’s life while the individual with special needs retains control over all other personal life decisions.

Guardianship is an effective tool to safeguard an individual with special needs. It provides parents or loved ones with the legal authority to support adults with a developmental disability and meet their needs without unnecessary complications.