Many people wonder whether or not it is important to become/designate a legal guardian (court-ordered appointment) of their loved one who has an intellectual and/or developmental disability.

In New York State, parents of persons with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities are considered the natural guardians of their children until the child reaches his or her 18th birthday. For parents of individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, Article 17A of the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act was passed to allow parents to petition Surrogate Courts to extend their decision-making authority for their loved ones who are 18 years of age or older.

Guardianship is a legal arrangement under which parents and relatives, or others that they designate, may act as advocates and have the legal authority and responsibility to care for another and his or her property. A guardianship is established due to the I/DD person’s inability to legally act on his or her own behalf. The legal guardian/s advocate for the person to ensure they receive proper medical treatment while also ensuring that the emotional and social needs of the person are met. The guardian advocates for the person to receive all appropriate and necessary services such as day program, employment, residential and other services while respecting the person's dignity and focusing on the person's needs, wants and quality of life. A legal guardian plays a significant role in a person's life not only by advocating on behalf of the individual and assisting with decision-making as needed, but also by nurturing the person's unique personality and abilities.

A legal guardian is someone who is actively involved in the person’s life. Many times, it is the person’s parents, sibling, family member or close friend. Some factors to consider if you are contemplating guardianship are your commitment and availability to the person, your age and health, and how the person feels about you becoming their legal guardian.

In some circumstances, the courts can designate an organization such as The Arc to serve as a person’s guardian. The Arc NY’s Corporate Guardianship Program, through Chapters such as Lexington, offers an alternative with an assurance that decisions will be made in the best interest of the individual, just as a family member or friend would do.

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