Summary of the options and timing

If your child can make decisions in some areas but not others, or just needs some support in making decisions, there are different options you can consider!

The important thing is to think carefully about your child's abilities, and to try to give them as much independence as possible.

The range of guardianship options

In Massachusetts, guardianship doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing decision.

If your family member needs help in some areas of life but not others, there are options that let you help with just the parts they need.

Terms you might hear often:

  • Guardianship - this means that another person (the guardian) is appointed to make decisions on behalf of the person with a disability. These can include decisions about all aspects of their life.

  • Conservatorship - this means that another person (the conservator) is appointed just to manage money for the person with a disability.

Below is a chart of the range of guardianship options:

Guardianship options. Listed from less restrictive options to more restrictive options. 1. Supported self-advocacy. Not all people with disabilities need guardianship or legal alternatives to guardianship.  Many resources are available to support self-advocacy and self-determination. 2. Alternatives not involved the court system. A range of options including a Health Care Proxy, Durable Power of Attorney, or Appointment of Advocate and Authorization can help maximize independence while provide decision support.  3. Limited conservatorship. Specifies specific areas of financial management where the conservator makes decisions on behalf of the person with the disability. The individual can make all other financial decisions. 4. Full conservatorship. The conservatorship has full control the finances of the person with a disability. The individual's decision-making rights regarding their money are significantly restricted. 5. Limited Guardianship. Specifies specific areas of life where the guardian makes decisions on behalf of the person with a disability. The individual maintains decision-making rights in all other areas. 6. Full guardianship. The guardian has the authority to make all decisions in all areas of life on behalf of the person with a disabiilty. The individual's decision-making rights are significantly restricted.

When to start the process 

When should I start thinking about guardianship?

  • It is important to start this process before your child turns 18, the legal age of adulthood.

  • The guardianship process can be time-consuming and complex. Try to start learning and thinking about this decision at least one year in advance.

  • You must prepare and file the paperwork within clear time windows. There are several key deadlines. (We'll go over this! Keep reading!)

  • If you are seeking guardianship, allow about 4 to 6 months total from the time you have all of your paperwork ready until the hearing process is complete. Plan for several visits to the probate court: at least 2 trips if all paperwork is completed correctly, and more if there are problems.

Source: Federation for Children with Special Needs