In the eyes of the law, even a person with a significant developmental, cognitive, or mental health disability is legally permitted to make decisions on his or her own behalf at the age of majority. The only way parents can continue making decisions for their child is to become their legal guardian.
Guardianship: Guardianship is a court-ordered arrangement in which one person is given the legal authority to make decisions on behalf of another person whom a court has deemed to be “incapacitated.” The guardian’s decision-making authority extends to all areas specified by the court.
Limited Guardian: A limited guardian makes decisions in only some specific areas, such as medical care. Limited guardianship may be appropriate if the person with a disability can make some decisions on his or her own.
General Guardian: A general guardian has broad control and decision-making authority over the individual. General guardianship may be appropriate if the person has a significant intellectual disability or mental illness and, as a result, is unable to meaningfully participate in important decisions that affect him or her.
Conservator: A conservator manages the finances (income and assets) of a person with a disability. A conservator has no authority to make personal decisions (medical, educational, etc.) for the person whose funds he or she is managing.
Deciding Whether Guardianship is Necessary
For parents, the decision to seek guardianship can be difficult. You need to protect your son or daughter with a disability, but there may be some areas where he or she can make sound decisions. Fortunately, legal guardianship is not an “all or nothing” proposition. It is possible to carve out some areas where you son or daughter can retain important decision-making rights and control of his or her own life.
When considering how much authority you need—and how much independence your son or daughter should retain—you should begin with an assessment of the different areas in which your son or daughter may need your assistance. These areas may include: medical, educational, financial, vocational/adult services, living arrangements, legal, self-care, safety, and communication.
To obtain guardianship, an attorney is not legally required. But you may want to consider hiring an attorney with expertise in this area. Each family is unique in that there are many significant choices and decisions to be made in this process.
For information about seeking guardianship in Kalamazoo County, click here.