When should I start thinking about Guardianship?

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When should I start thinking about Guardianship?

Is your child almost 18?  If you’re wondering about different ways you can help your child with decision-making, or whether or not you need to apply for guardianship, we’ve created a short guide to discuss the options and walk you through the process.

When they turn 18, you no longer have the right to make decisions for them unless you go through a process to get official permission. This is the time to start thinking about guardianship and other options for decision-making. 

 Before you start this process, take some time to assess your family member's specific needs. The list below is adapted from Barbara Jackins' book Legal Planning for Special Needs in Massachusetts (2010) but is relevant no matter where you live. For each area listed below,  think and talk about how well your family member can do these things on their own. Involve your family member if possible.


  • Seek medical care when they are sick or injured

  • Weigh the risks and benefits of medical procedures

  • Understand the need for routine medical care

  • Understand that they may still need a medical procedure, even if it is painful or unpleasant

  • Assess whether taking a certain medicine is important, even though it may have unpleasant side effects

  • Provide accurate information about their medical condition

  • Follow medical advice and treatment plans


  • Understand their learning issues

  • Understand the services they need at school

  • Advocate to get the services they need at school


  • Count money

  • Make change

  • Keep their money safe so it's not lost or stolen

  • Keep a monthly spending budget

  • Pay for expenses

Vocational / adult services

  • Apply for services from government agencies

  • Access the services they need, like job training, job support, or day programs

  • Advocate for themselves to get the best possible services 

Living arrangements

  • Take care of themselves, physically

  • Buy food, clothing, and shelter

  • Live in a group setting and respect others' needs for quiet, privacy, and cleanliness

Legal and decision-making

  • Understand what it means to sign documents

  • Make sound decisions in important life areas like housing, school, and work

Self-care and safety

  • Use basic safety skills: staying away from dangerous areas, locking doors, not talking to strangers, being careful around fires, stoves, candles, etc

  • Get help during emergencies like fires or accidents


  • Communicate effectively (verbally or by other means)

  • Understand that they have choices

  • Express their preferences

For more, start your Adult Decision-Making Guide and it will help you to:

Click on the buttons below to access the Massachusetts and Louisiana guardianship guides:

Massachusetts Guardianship Guide

Louisiana Guardianship Guide