6 Sets of Questions to Help You Decide About Guardianship

Your child with a developmental disability is approaching 18. In Massachusetts this is called the ‘age of majority.’ It’s when he or she becomes a decision-making adult in the eyes of the law.

You need to decide if some type of guardianship or shared decision-making is right for them as they enter adulthood. But how will you decide?

First, take some time to assess your family member's specific needs. To what degree can they make sound decisions in important life areas like communication, health care, school, money, housing and safety?

Here are six key sets of questions to think through, adapted from a more thorough list created by attorney Barbara Jackins in her book Legal Planning for Special Needs in Massachusetts.

For each area, think about how independently – on his or her own – your family member can do these things:


  • Communicate effectively (verbally or by other means)?
  • Understand that he or she has choices?
  • Express his or her preferences?

Health care

  • Understand the need for routine medical care?
  • Seek care when he or she is sick or injured?
  • Provide accurate information about his or her condition?
  • Follow medical advice?
  • Weigh the benefits and risks of medicines and medical procedures, even when these may not be pleasant?


  • Understand the basic facts about his or her learning problems?
  • Understand the services he or she needs at school?
  • Advocate for himself or herself to get needed services at school – including transition services?
  • Notify trusted people if he or she runs into a problem?

smiling child at computer


  • Understand how to count money and make change?
  • Keep his or her money safe so it's not lost or stolen?
  • Pay bills and expenses?
  • Keep to a monthly spending budget?

Living arrangements

  • Provide for his or her own physical care?
  • Purchase food and clothing?
  • Pay rent?
  • Live in a group setting and respect others' needs for quiet, privacy, and cleanliness?

young man cooking and smiling


  • Use personal safety skills, such as staying away from dangerous areas, locking doors, or not talking to strangers?
  • Use other basic safety skills, such as being careful around fires, stoves, and candles?
  • Get help during emergencies like fires or accidents?

You may be thinking of other questions around work, adult services, recreation, nutrition, culture, religion, and more. That’s good! Talk through these questions with your family member. It’s also a good idea to review these with helpful people such as a special needs attorney (you can ask for a free consultation), teacher, case manager, and/or doctor.

When your child turns 17 and it’s time to explore the different guardianship options, check out our free Exceptional Lives Guardianship Guide.

The Exceptional Lives team is available to answer any questions you may have along the way. Give us a call at 1-844-628-4866 or send us an email at info@exceptionallives.org.