Who will advocate in your absence?
At 18 all individuals, including those with developmental disabilities (special needs), reach the legal age of majority in New Jersey. This means that parents can no longer make decisions legally on behalf of an adult child, regardless of the nature of the individual's disability and regardless of whether or not the individual still lives with the family.
Order of Guardianship
Guardianship is a legal procedure in which a person or persons is appointed by a court to make decisions for someone who no longer can make decisions for himself. A person will be declared incompetent, and in need of a guardian, if he lacks sufficient capacity to manage his own affairs or to make or communicate important decisions about his health, property or family.
Visit the NJ Division of Developmental Disabilities' website for more information on the steps needed to obtain Guardianship for your loved one.
Types of Guardianship to choose from:
Determining which one is right for the situation is the purview of someone versed in such legal procedures. The Community Health Law Project has offices throughout the State of NJ dedicated "to provide legal and advocacy services, training, education, and related activities to persons with disabilities and, in certain issues, to organizations representing their interests, with an emphasis on those most vulnerable and needy."
Alternatively, the Guardianship Assistance Program or GAP Services assists parents of developmentally disabled young adults in obtaining legal guardianship.
Amend Existing Orders of Guardianship
Do you expect to pre-decease your special needs loved one? An existing Order of Guardianship can be amended to add another who will advocate/speak on the behalf of the named individual in your absence. Again, best to consult an attorney or legal advocate to aid the process.
Power of Attorney (POA)
For those who need someone to handle their financial affairs, a power of attorney is very helpful. It must be signed by a person who is mentally competent. The person must understand what he is signing. This can be done either before a person loses mental capacity or, if this has already happened, during a period that the person has regained capacity, if only temporarily. A doctor could help determine capacity if there is doubt.
See Guardianship or POA, which one do you need? for more information on which avenue is the right one to take.
Valuable information on the topic was presented by CHLP in a webinar on June 16, 2020. The webinar was recorded and available for viewing. Click Live Event! Guardianship in NJ.