As your teen with a disability approaches age 18, the age of majority in Utah, you will need to make many decisions. Among them is whether or not you will need to seek guardianship of your young adult.
The time to explore options for supporting your son or daughter in the future is while you are still the one responsible for making decisions about his or her education, safety, and well-being. That way, you have time and opportunity on your side.
Guardianship is a legal process that allows someone (usually a family member) to ask the court to find that a person age 18 or older is unable (incompetent) to manage his/her affairs effectively because of a disability. A guardian steps in the shoes of the person with a disability and makes decisions in the individual’s best interest. Guardianship is a legal matter that has consequences for both parents and offspring which involves the court system.
This decision should not be taken lightly as guardianship can take away many of the person’s rights. On one hand, it puts protections in place so your son or daughter can live life more safely, with as much self-determination as possible; on the other hand, it limits civil rights. By its very nature, guardianship is quite restrictive. He or she is usually stripped of the authority to make decisions that is granted to adults.
What about Guardianship and Other Options?
There are other options to be considered as well, such as conservatorship or having an educational advocate. Another option is using person centered planning or supported decision making to help the adult with disabilities to make decisions.
If these possibilities have crossed your mind, you’ll need to find out more—much more—before taking action.
Suggestions to Consider
If you feel you need to learn more about future care-taking options for your son or daughter, here are a few suggestions to get started:
- Learn how Utah defines guardianship. What guardianship options exist, and what are the laws that govern them?
- Explore the differences between guardianship, conservatorship, having an educational advocate, person-centered planning and supported decision making. What would each mean for you and for your young adult?
- Determine the best way to provide support to your son or daughter. What is the least restrictive way to provide your young person with the support he/she needs to make decisions?
- Determine the level of support needed. How much support is needed to make sound decisions and choices? Does he or she need support, for example, in identifying when to make a decision? In exploring options? In coping with the consequences of choices? What types of supports does he or she need?
- Consider the “informal” supports your young adult already has (for example, a network of family or friends). Are these enough to support him/her in decision-making, or will more supports be needed?
Resources for more information about guardianship
“My Voice Counts” was designed and created by the Utah Advocates as Leaders, Self- Advocacy Speaker’s Network. The speakers of the network researched and wrote this guide to help self-determined people think about ways in which their voices can be heard when making both simple and hard decisions.
Guardianship Signature Program – Utah State Court Fact Sheet
Advance Life Planning and Guardianship Online Training Provided by the Utah Courts
This 30 minute online class includes sections on Planning Ahead and Alternatives to Guardianship, Health Care Decision Making, Financial Decision Making, and Making a Plan and Finding Resources. Additionally, there is also a 40 minutes online class on the Court Process and Procedures.