Guardianship and Alternatives


Families may seek guardianship of their young adults with a disability. This is a very serious decision and process.

While guardianship can offer protection and help for people who can't decide for themselves, it also means loss of significant freedoms and independence. That’s why it is critical that all transition stakeholders understand guardianship and alternatives to it.

Guardianship is a:

  • last resort when other options, like supported decision-making or giving someone power of attorney, aren't enough to keep the person with a disability safe.
  • legal process where a court appoints someone (guardian) to make decisions for a person.

Parents are the guardians of their children until the children reach the age of majority. Typically, this is age 18, but differs among states.

For adults with guardians, the guardianship lasts until they legally prove they are capable of making their own decisions, or until they die.

It is very important to think carefully about what best fits the individual preferences and needs of the person with a disability.

A person-centered approach and consideration of multiple options should guide the decision. Options include:

  • Special guardianship limited to specific issues (medical, finances, etc.) for the individual.
  • Full guardianship to make decisions about everything. This means the person with the guardian cannot do things on their own such as:
  • Sign a contract (like a lease, loan, credit card, work contract, etc.)
  • Make independent decisions about their money, health, supports, and education
  • Get married without permission of the guardian

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Related Topics


Self-determination is important to student and youth success in and after school. More about self-determination.

Transition Planning

Transition planning is the coordinated process of guiding young people with disabilities through various experiences to help them have successful and meaningful lives beyond high school. More about transition planning.

Youth Engagement

When students and youth participate in their transition planning, they are empowered as they build skills and self-confidence. More about youth engagement.

Family Engagement

Family engagement is crucial during the transition process, and can positively impact their child's well-being outcomes into adulthood. More about family engagement.