By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist
As a transition specialist working with students from middle school through young adulthood, one of the biggest transitions that students make is “turning 18” or when they reach the Age of Majority (i.e., the legal age established by state law at which the person is no longer a minor) and gain the rights and responsibilities for making educational, medical, financial and other legal decisions. For students who have had a tremendous amount of support at home and in school, this transition can be challenging. Some students are not ready to make competent decisions for themselves, and other students may never be capable of making competent and informed decisions independently. If your child or a student you are working with needs help making decisions in adulthood, there are several options for organizing decision-making in adulthood. Because I am not a legal agent, I do always suggest that families consult with experts, such as special needs attorneys, financial planners and medical experts, as they work toward determining the best legal decision-making arrangement for their child.
Here are some basic descriptions of decision-making options you may consider for your child:
Power of Attorney (POA): A written authorization that allows a person to represent or act on another’s behalf. There are different types of POAs, and they can be written specific to whatever acts the individual wants the agent to be able to perform (e.g., private affairs, business, financial, medical or some other legal matter).
Health Care Proxy: A legal instrument with which the individual appoints a healthcare agent to make healthcare decisions on behalf of the individual when he or she is incapable of making and executing the healthcare decisions stipulated in the proxy. One way this is different from a POA is that the healthcare agent is only able to make medical decisions for the individual during the time when that individual is incapacitated. However, some healthcare professionals may view a healthcare proxy as a desire to share medical decision-making even though that is not exactly the letter of the law.
Guardianship/Conservatorship: A court-ordered arrangement whereby one or more persons are given legal authority to make decisions on behalf of another person. Guardianship and conservatorship are used when the person’s decision-making capacity is so impaired that the person is unable to care for his or her own personal safety or to provide for his or her necessities of life. Guardians and conservators may have limited decision-making power or general broad control. While POAs and health care proxies are arrangements that might be considered mainstream as they can be accessed by any adult with or without a disability, guardianship and conservatorship are more extreme options as a guardian is taking full or partial control over an individual’s affairs and taking away some of that person’s legal and civil rights.
Supported Decision-Making (SDM): SDM is an alternative to guardianship whereby the individual with a disability selects supporters who will assist the individual in making their own decisions. It allows an individual with a disability to make his or her own decisions about life choices with the support of a designated person or team of trusted supporters. This is an alternative to guardianship which is becoming more popular in Massachusetts and many other states across the country. To learn more about SDM, check out the National Resource Center for Supported Decision-Making and the Supported Decisions Site from the Center for Public Representation.
If you are looking for more information about special needs legal planning specific to Massachusetts, these are a handful of resources you may want to explore:
- Legal Planning for Special Needs in Massachusetts – http://www.legalplanningforspecialneeds.com/tablet/books.html#legalplanning
- FletcherTilton Special Needs Practice – https://www.fletchertilton.com/special-needs
- Kotin Krabtree & Strong Estate Planning and Estate & Trust Administration – https://www.fletchertilton.com/special-needs
- Special Needs Law Group of Massachusetts – https://specialneeds-law.com/
- Special Needs Financial Planning – https://specialneedsplanning.com/
- James Baron Special Needs Estate Planning – https://www.lawbaron.com/special-needs-estate-planning.html
- Massachusetts Medical Society Health Care Proxy Information – http://www.massmed.org/Patient-Care/Health-Topics/Health-Care-Proxies-and-End-of-Life-Care/Health-Care-Proxy-Information-and-Forms/#.XtZUcTpKg2w
- gov Learn about the power of attorney – https://www.mass.gov/service-details/learn-about-the-power-of-attorney
- gov Guardianship Information – https://www.mass.gov/topics/guardianship
If you are interested in working with a transition specialist at NESCA for consultation, coaching, planning or evaluation, please complete our online intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.
About the Author:
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.