If you have a child who suffers from a type of disability which makes it impossible for the child to make his/her own decisions, then you will need to obtain legal guardianship of that child once the child nears the age of 18. At eighteen years old, a child is considered an adult and, so, the parent is not able to make decisions for the child unless the parent has been appointed the legal guardian. Of course, the guardianship can be done after the child’s 18th birthday, as long as it is clear that the disability began before the age of majority.
New York has made it relatively easy for the parents of disabled children to become the legal guardians. It is accomplished through an Article 17A proceeding, and is done through the Surrogates Court. This is a simpler, less expensive procedure that is specifically for disabled children. There are several forms required to be filed with the Court and then a hearing date is set when the parents and child appear personally. One of the many advantages of the procedure is that the parents can list other family members or persons to step in as legal guardian in the event they become unavailable.
Guardianship will permit the parent (or other guardian) to make all decisions for the child, including health care decisions, and to manage the child’s income and assets, if any. While the proceeding can be done without an attorney, it is highly recommended that a lawyer experienced in handling these proceedings be retained for this purpose.