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When a child with significant developmental disabilities reaches the age of majority adulthood (which in most cases is the age of 18, but may vary from state to state), it may be time for the child’s parents to consider obtaining guardianship over their child. The fact is that parents do not automatically remain their child’s natural guardian when a child reaches the age of majority. However, Guardianship is a decision that should not be taken lightly – in many states it means that the individual, deemed to be incapacitated, loses all civil rights, including the right to vote, drive, or marry. Guardianship is a judicial determination made in a court of law after an investigation in which the alleged incompetent person is represented by legal counsel in New Jersey.

When Is Guardianship Needed?

All adults with severe disabilities do not require a guardian. Guardianship is only an avenue to pursue if the person’s parents, doctor, psychologist, and caregivers (such as teachers) all agree that the individual is incapable of making informed decisions with appropriate guidance and information.

Parents often think that because their child cannot balance a checkbook, their child needs a guardian. In today’s world, guardianship for people with disabilities has little to do with the capacity to handle finances. There are other mechanisms for dealing with financial matters, such as powers of attorney, representative payees for government benefits, and trusts.

Understanding Guardianship

Guardianship is considered to insure informed decisions about where a person should live, what care and supervision is required, and how to interact with the medical community. These areas of concern require that the guardian be informed of the services available to their ward within the community and how to access them.

Some states, such as New Jersey, offer limited guardianship, in which the guardian is limited in the scope of decision-making. For example, the guardian may have the right to make decisions on medical issues, but not on decisions regarding where a person will live.

The role of the guardian is to enhance the ward’s lifestyle while including the ward in the decision-making process as much as possible. The guardian is expected to determine the ward’s wishes and goals and to advocate on the ward’s behalf. Guardians must not view their role as a means of limiting activity. For instance, few courts would give a guardian control over social interactions of their ward.

Parents also have to consider who will be their adult child’s guardian after they have passed away. It is most helpful to choose an individual who is of the child’s generation, perhaps a sibling or a friend of the family.

Disability Services & Advocacy, LLC offers Pro-Se Guardianship services to parents or family members wishing to become legal guardians for a person with disabilities in New Jersey. We also offer Pro-Se services to clients when they want to add or change Co-Guardians on previously approved Guardianship relationships. Please contact us to learn more about our Guardianship services in New Jersey.

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