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The transition from high school to young adulthood is a critical stage for all teenagers; for students with disabilities, this stage requires extra planning and goal setting. Factors to consider include post-secondary education, the development of career and vocational skills, as well as the ability to live independently. These links and resources may be helpful as a student moves from their educational entitlement to services and supports they may be eligible for as an adult.

In New Jersey, a child becomes an adult at the age of 18, and all parental rights transfer to the child upon reaching
this age of majority.
If you expect your child with disabilities will need help to manage the responsibility of making important adult
decisions, do you know about the support options?

Transition Planning: Start the Discussion Early
At least three years before a child turns 18, the child’s IEP must include a statement that the child and the
parents or guardians have been informed of the transfer of educational rights from the parents or guardians to
the child/young adult upon reaching the age of majority. The purpose of providing this information is to protect
the child’s rights, and will allow the child and parents or guardians time to consider additional support options
depending on the unique needs of the child. The support options are based on the child’s ability to make
informed decisions. The least restrictive option being Supported Decision–Making.
Supported Decision-Making
• Maintains the young adult’s decision-making ability with the assistance of an individual or individuals
appointed by the young adult.
• Family members, friends, or professionals may be appointed to serve as their support in making decisions.
• Studies have shown that people with disabilities who exercise greater self-determination have a better
quality of life, display more independence, are more likely to be employed, and are more likely to be
involved in the community.
Supported Decision-Making can help people with disabilities to:
• Understand information, issues, and choices;
• Focus attention in decision-making;
• Weigh options;
• Ensure that decisions are based on their own preferences; and
• Interpret and/or communicate decisions to other parties.

Ages 18-20

  • Apply for Medicaid eligibility. (It is recommended that individuals turning 18 apply for SSI, since approval of SSI makes you automatically Medicaid eligible in New Jersey.)
  • Submit the Application for Determination of Eligibility to the Division. (If you were already determined to be eligible for developmental disability services through the Children’s System of Care, within the Department of Children and Families, you may be able to submit the SHORT Application.)
  • After the Division receives and reviews your application, you will be scheduled to complete the NJ Comprehensive Assessment Tool

During the school year in which you are or will turn 21

September-June: Preparation and Planning

  • Participate in activities offered through Planning for Adult Life.
  • Use the Division’s Person-Centered Planning Tool to identify your vision for work and life, and the supports that may be needed to achieve it.
  • Learn about Support Coordination and service providers.

February-April: Support Coordination Agency Selection and Assignment

April-June: Service Plan Development

  • The Support Coordinator is responsible for writing the Individualized Service Plan (ISP), with guidance from the planning team (student, family, providers, etc.) and information gathered during the Person-Centered Planning process and completion of the NJCAT.
  • *The ISP should be completed and approved before the student exits the school system so that services will be in place upon graduation.

Guardianship vs Power of Attorney

At 18 all individuals, including those with developmental disabilities, reach the legal age of majority.  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. 

Some families decide to explore guardianship as an option for their family member. A guardian is defined as "a person or agency appointed by a court to act on behalf of an individual".  Guardianship can be general or limited to certain types of decisions, such as those related to residential, educational, medical, legal, vocational, or financial issues.

In all cases,guardianship should be viewed as a solution of last resort, because it removes an individual’s fundamental right of self-determination.  Once a guardian or co-guardians have been appointed by the Superior Court, only the court can modify or change the guardianship order.  There are alternatives to guardianship that may be appropriate for your family member, such as a revocable power of attorney (POA).

Establishing guardianship is a legal process, and some families turn to the Bureau of Guardianship Services at the Department of Human Services for help with the process. Guardianship, however, can be established without the Bureau’s involvement. 

Although it is possible to obtain guardianship without an attorney, some families use an attorney for assistance with POAs, guardianship and similar legal proceedings.  The New Jersey Judiciary has compiled helpful information on obtaining guardianship and, in their guardianship packet, recommends using an attorney to navigate the process:

“The court system can be confusing and it is a good idea to get a lawyer if you can. The law, the proofs necessary to present your case, and the procedural rules governing cases in the Chancery Division, Probate Part are complex. . . . It is recommended that you make every effort to obtain the assistance of a lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you may contact the legal services program in your county to see if you qualify for free legal services. Their telephone number can be found online or in your local yellow pages under “Legal Aid” or ‘Legal Services.’”



These documents have been prepared by the Department of Human Services’ Bureau of Guardianship Services (BGS). 

If you have questions, please contact BGS at 609-631-2213. 

If your family member has been determined to need a guardian, working through BGS is only one of several options you have for pursuing guardianship.  Many families elect to pursue guardianship privately, either through an attorney or pro se (without an attorney) because these options tend to move faster than the BGS process.

BGS is only able to process guardianship of the person. If your family member has property such as a trust or other large assets, you need to pursue guardianship of person and property through a private attorney. This must be done at your expense or that of the estate.

Power of Attorney
• Allows the young adult to appoint an individual to make decisions on their behalf. The young adult must be
able to understand that the appointed person will make the decisions and must be able to grant consent
to do so.
• Although not required, consultation from an attorney is recommended in the preparation and execution.
• Low cost, easy to create and change, and revocable at any time.
• Applicable when the young adult lacks the ability to make decisions in some or all areas and is unable
to give informed consent and understand the consequences of decisions.
• Requires judicial review since guardianships, including general or limited, impact an individual's right
to make decisions in major life areas involving person and/or property, as a court determines.
• The Bureau of Guardianship, within the Department of Human Services may be able to assist eligible
families with the process.

Supported Decision-Making
• Self-Determination & Supported Decision-Making, Span Parent Advocacy Network

• Supported Decision-Making: Change the Culture, Change the World! May 17, 2018 Lecture, The Boggs
Center on Development Disabilities

Power of Attorney
• FAQs about Power of Attorney 2018, Rutgers Law School

• The Education Power of Attorney: Empowering Students with Disabilities, Special Needs Alliance

Online Resources

Office of Advocacy

Transition to Adulthood

Access Link

NJ Family Success Center

Childrens' System of Care

Apply for DDD Services

NJ Adult Service State Agencies

Department of Children and Families

Division of Developmental Disabilities

Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services

NJ Department of Education, Office of Special Education