Age of Majority, Types of Support, Guardianship and Alternatives
- Read First - Disclosure and Purpose
- Age of Majority
- Roles in this Process
- Types of Supports
- Varying Degrees of Support
- Alternatives to Guardianship
This is not & cannot be legal advice.
For legal advice, you are counseled to discuss this with a lawyer.
We gladly encourage families to take the class offered by the Utah Parent Center partnership as a source for further information or to contact a lawyer, insurance company, or the Utah courts. The class by the Utah Parent Center is free and terrific about explaining the types of supports families need to consider when looking at types of supports for adults with disabilities, the degree of supports needed, and processes for determining what would be best.
This web page is to help families become familiar with the ideas and alternatives - and we will openly assert, to understand that Guardianship is only one of several degrees of support. We offer this information to families to learn about some of the concepts and considerations as they determine whether they need to take the class or talk to an attorney for legal counsel.
The concept of "Age of Majority" refers to knowing that when an individual turns 18 years of age, they are considered legally competent to make decisions for themselves and handle all their matters as an adult. Legally, they are no longer considered a minor under the care of a parent or guardian. They are considered emancipated and able to legally represent themselves, unless this has been legally changed by the courts.
Many families with children with disabilities know that isn't always the case. This is why there are legal courses of action, such as Guardianship and other alternatives ("Varying Degrees of Support" Tab). Those who want to help that person can evaluate what is appropriate and put in place safeguards and supports to help, typically for individuals at the level of moderate to severe disabilities. Please read the other information to learn more.
In our state, the Utah Parent Center (https://utahparentcenter.org/) offers classes that discuss this and provide additional information.
There are also lawyers, estate planners, and others who can help and provide support. We understand it is best to first ask them the extent of their experience working with individuals with disabilities and their families.
This is a Process
With nothing else put in place, when a person turns 18 years old, they are considered emancipated adults able to make their own choices in their life. For some, this is totally appropriate. For some, this is not and other measures are needed. It is important to look at this as a process that includes the student approaching 18 yrs, their family, and any formal or informal supports they have in place.
We wish to emphasize that to the extent possible, individuals with disabilities do play a role in this process of determining what types and the degree of supports needed. To the extent possible, we encourage self-advocacy and self-determination to include students - learning about their preferences, skills, understanding, wishes, etc.
Parents and potential guardians best help when they play a role advocating and helping in this process. Outside agencies and organizations can provide input and assistance. This web site is designed to assist you in learning about things to consider and alternatives available to you.
Please read through the other tabs to learn about considerations and concepts that relate to helping individuals to the extent needed. This can be fuzzy. Families know their child best and that is why they are asked to learn about this, in order to best support their child with disabilities prepare for their adult roles.
What Type(s) of Life Help Will the Individual Need as an Adult?
There are many types of help individuals may need help with. These depend on the individual with disabilities and are determined "case-by-case," never one size fits all. Guiding principles include individual self-advocacy and self-determination as families consider the person's:
- Abilities (Strengths & Weaknesses)
- Capacity to understand,
- Willingness to make those decisions,
- Availability of resources,
- Support networks, and
- The person's experience in a given area.
Some examples of areas where support might be needed include, but are not limited to the following areas for decisions:
What kind of helps do they need? What kind of supports are available formally and informally? What skills do they demonstrate?
How Much Help in Life Area(s) Will the Individual Need as an Adult?
The Utah Parent Center class on Guardianship and Alternatives have great resources to help evaluate this and related questions. Tools such as My Voice Counts, and Charting the Life Course can be invaluable in working together to determine the degree of support an individual with disabilities might need.
A family needs to consider the individual's capacity, nature/extent of disability, strengths and weaknesses, readiness, willingness, cooperativeness, self-advocated wishes, and networks of support. A family also needs to consider their own abilities, readiness, access to professionals, and willingness to support that member of the family. Together, a family ultimately needs to establish the balance or degree of support that would be most appropriate. The answer may be one or a combination of the following.
Varying Degrees of Support in Different Life Areas of Need (See "Types of Supports" Tab):
- Supported Decision Making - Support through which people with disabilities use their support groups to make decisions, but the decisions rest with the person.
- Direct Deposits/Electronic Payments or Billing - Support set up for a person using technology as a tool.
- Designated Representative or Payee - Someone is established to receive and support, such as Social Security may do with SSI.
- HIPPA Releases & Health Care Directives - Legal paperwork that can be developed with an individual establishing someone else as legally able to make decisions and have access to medical records.
- Established Powers of Attorney - Document that the individual can have drafted that allows another person to act for them. Learn about "durable" vs "springing."
- Joint Ownership or Bank Account - Sharing an account to support and help an individual, but supporting them in use.
- Conservatorship (if over $20,000 for the individual) - If the individual has that much, look into this legally.
- Special Accounts - ABLE Accounts, Special Needs Trusts - Accounts that help provide for an individual. There are pros & cons one must learn about.
- Guardianship - Court petitioned and appointed guardianship over specific areas or all of an individual's choices/rights.
All of these imply varying levels of support and responsibility to an individual with disabilities. They also leave varying right for the individual with disabilities to self-advocate and self-determine for themselves.
This is one of the principal reasons we promote learning about the different alternatives and degrees of supports, so that a family with the individual can establish what they feel would be best.
Guardianship is one of the degrees of support for an individual with a disability to be considered. "Guardianship" is included as a tab because people often refer to it and people may look for this information. Guardianship is the most extensive among several degrees of support granted through the court to individuals to make all area-specific decisions for an individual, only in those areas granted by said court.
- Limited (Partial) Guardianship grants to the guardian(s) power to make decisions limited to specific areas. Partial can include individual areas up to and including all five areas:
- Educational and/or
- Financial and/or
- Medical and/or
- Residential and/or
- Plenary (Full) Guardianship grants to the guardian(s) power to make all decisions in all areas.
- All those listed above, as well as Marriage and Voting.
Even with Guardianship, guardians can help encourage self-advocacy and self-determination in the individual by working with them and providing healthy opportunities and choices. The difference is that in the very end, the legal decision resides with the guardian.
If guardianship is determined to be the best for an individual with disabilities, the Utah Parent Center offers a free class to help with identifying types of guardianship, as well as ensuring people understand various options. Please contact them at https://utahparentcenter.org/.
Self-Help Resources / Guardianship & Conservatorship - https://www.utcourts.gov/howto/family/gc/
This tab is meant to draw your attention to the fact that guardianship is not the only type of support to adults who require help. We hope that as you read under the tabs "Types of Supports" and "Varying Degrees of Support," you found good examples of supports that can be put in place based on the needs of the individual - less where needed, more where needed.
The Utah Disability Law Center has resources that relate to these questions. Please see them at:
Alternatives to Guardianship
- Factsheet: Alternatives to Guardianship (PDF) Obtención de Apoyo con Decisiones de Adultos: Alternativas a la Tutela (PDF)
- Factsheet: Guardianship (PDF) Tutela (PDF)
- National Resource Center for Supported Decision-Making
- Disability.gov Website and Resource
As mentioned at other times, the Utah Parent Center is an important resource about this and other needs for individuals with disabilities. Please go to Utah Parent Center (UPC) or contact them with questions at:
We continue to build more information. If you have questions or concerns about any content, please email.