Things you need to think about when your child turns 18

When a child turns 18, this is often called the age of majority.

They are now considered an adult and can make their own decisions. At this time, you no longer have the right to make decisions for them.

There are also some other things to think about, like registering to vote and re-applying for benefits.

 Click on the boxes below to learn more about each:

This often comes as a surprise when you have a child who who has needed extra support...

Once a child turns 18, parents will NOT be able to do the following: Related to finance: sign a lease or contract, or authorize a credit card. Related to Education: decide on their special education services and plan (special education services may continue until age 22 in Massachusetts).  Related to Health Care: see their medical information, give permission for a medical procedure, make decisions about medical care and treatment, talk with insurance caompanies about their coverage.

People with disabilities often need help making these decisions in order to protect themselves from harm.

There are many ways to help your child with decision-making when they turn 18. You always want to let them keep as much control as they can handle and stay safe.
But if you feel it's necessary, you can get legal permission to make decisions for them.  It's a process where the court must appoint someone to have these legal rights.

It's important to get this settled before your child turns 18!

  • 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 just some aspects of their life, or all aspects.

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

In Massachusetts, this doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing decision. If your child needs help in some areas of life but not others, there are options that let you help with just the parts they need.

Here's what you can do:

See the Exceptional Lives Guardianship Guide to learn more. (It will open in a new tab on your screen.)

  • It will describe the range of options to support your adult child's decision-making, and walk you through the whole process of getting guardianship, if that's what you decide.

Consider filling out an Age of Majority Form. 

  • This will allow you to make decisions about your child's education. You'll be able to sign things like their IEP, consent for testing and other important forms. Your child must sign it, and you must have 2 people witness this and sign it as well. If your child cannot sign their name, ask your IEP team about your options.

Click the link at the bottom of the page to download a copy. (It will open in a new tab or appear in the bottom corner of your screen.)


Source: Misilo (2013), US DOE

Voting is an important right, and a way for young adults to engage in society and feel empowered to have a say in what happens in their world.

Massachusetts residents can vote once they turn 18. 

(But they can register as young as 16!)

Here's what you can do:

  • Talk to your child (if possible) about the voting process, learning about laws and candidates, and how to make decisions like this.

  • Help them register to vote! Go to this website to learn how: Registering to Vote. (Click to open it in a new tab on your screen.)

  • Or click the link at the bottom of the page to download the Voter Registration Form. (It will open in a new tab or appear in the bottom corner of your screen.) You can fill it out and mail it in.

NOTE: If you have Guardianship of your child, they will not be able to vote.

Source: Commonwealth of Massachusetts

All boys/young men over the age of 18 are required to register for Selective Service -- even if they have a severe disability that would make it impossible for them serve in the military.

This does not mean they will have to serve!

Important things to know: 

  • There is no military draft in the U.S. at this time. Military service is voluntary. The selective service is just a list in case of a national crisis.

  • If your son has a disability that would disqualify him to serve, he would not have to, even if there was a national emergency.

  • He is supposed to register within 30 days of turning 18. It is a federal law. (Don't worry, if you register past the 30 days, nothing terrible will happen!)

  • If he does not register, he may not be eligible for student financial aid, federal employment, and federal job training programs


Don't worry! This is mostly a formality.

How to register:

  • You can click on this link to register online. (It will open in a new tab.)
  • Or you can click the link at the bottom of the page to download a form to fill out and send by mail. (It will open in a new tab or appear in the bottom corner of your screen.)
  • Either way, it's very quick!
  • Click on this link to lean more: www.usa.gov/selective-service 

Source: Usa.gov

If your child has MassHealth or is getting DDS services, they will have to re-apply as an adult when they turn 18.

They will not automatically qualify again, but it is likely if nothing has changed.

If your child is already getting SSI Benefits, they will also have to re-apply as an adult. If they did not qualify as a child because of your family income, they may qualify now. If they are over 18, only their own income and financial resources will count toward the limit.

What is SSI?

SSI is Supplemental Security Income. It is a government cash benefit to help people with low income and disabilities to cover basic expenses. To learn more, keep reading through this Guide--we'll tell you more about it!

Here's what you can do:

Click on the links and buttons below to find the information or download the forms you need to apply for these services.

Sources: Social Security Administration, Department of Developmental Services, Mass Department of Health and Human Services

Section 8 Housing is a program that helps families with very low income to pay their rent.

  • The waitlist may be very long. If your child may need help affording their own apartment in the future,  it's a good idea to put them on this list now.

  • Call the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) at 617-573-1150 or click here for the Public Housing Authority listings by city or zip code. Ask about Section 8 Vouchers.

Adult Foster Care is a system for adults who need help with activities of daily life.

  • A personal care attendant (PCA) will get paid to help the person with daily needs like cooking, dressing, bathing, etc.

  • If your adult child lives with you, you may be able to get paid to help care for them.

Source: U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

There are 4 regions of DDS in Massachusetts. Each one has a Regional Eligibility Team, who will be in charge of your application.

To apply for DDS services:

  1. Call your nearest DDS Office.  Use this DDS area locator to find one near you. (Click to open it in a new tab.)

  2. Tell them you want to apply for DDS services, and ask them which application to use.

  3. Click the links at the bottom of the page to download a PDF copy of the application you need.

The application will ask you for records that prove that your child has a developmental or intellectual disability, autism or another related condition.

  • You should include medical test results and diagnoses, educational assessments, a copy of your IEP or 504 plan, and any other information you have.
  • You don't have to get the actual medical records. They'll ask you to sign a release form so they can get them from your child's doctors.

What to expect:

  • You will get a call from a Regional Eligibility Team member.

  • They will schedule a meeting with you to go over your application.

  • They will make a decision within 60 days to see if your child qualifies.

  • They will assign a coordinator to help you with your services.

Note: If your child is over 18, they will need to sign the form unless you have permission through the guardianship process. (See our Guardianship Guide to learn more about this process and other options for helping your adult child with decision-making.)
For more information, call your local DDS office. (Click to open in a new tab.)

Sources: EOHHS, MA DDS

Click on the "Brochure" link at the bottom of the page to download a 2-page brochure with more information.

Sources: Mass Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, The Federation for Children with Special Needs

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