Every person is considered legally competent at the age of 18, regardless of any limiting condition the person may have. For this reason, many families feel they must obtain guardianship to keep their loved one safe. In New York, families can apply for guardianship of their adult family member based on a qualifying diagnosis of an intellectual or other developmental disability.
A guardianship application to obtain guardianship can be made with or without the assistance of a lawyer, but the process can be complicated and most families seek counsel. Once the process is complete, the legal guardian ensures the person receives proper medical treatment, while also ensuring the emotional and social needs of the person are fulfilled. Guardianship is only one of several planning options for families who want to ensure their developmentally disabled loved one gets the help they need in the future. Although guardianship is helpful when a person has limited decision making capabilities, it removes the civil liberties of the person subjected to guardianship. Guardianship can be disadvantageous to a developmentally disabled person who can make some decisions and who wishes to progress and become as independent as possible. Most people receive assistance from family, friends and / or paid professionals when making major life decisions and people with intellectual disabilities can receive this type of needed support without the assistance of a guardian. There are many alternatives to guardianship, such as power of attorney , surrogate decision making, health care proxy, representative payee arrangements and special needs trusts. Like guardianship, these alternatives work best when they are put into place prior to the need for the support they provide.