The Distinction Between Power of Attorney and Guardianship for Young Adults with Disabilities

When planning for the future of a young adult with disabilities, understanding the difference between a power of attorney and guardianship is vital. A power of attorney is a legal document that grants a trusted person the authority to make decisions on behalf of the individual, should they become unable to do so. It is generally less restrictive than guardianship, as it can be tailored to grant specific powers and can be revoked or changed as long as the individual has the capacity to do so.

Guardianship, on the other hand, is a legal status conferred by a court which removes certain rights from the young adult and grants them to a guardian. This process is often more rigorous, requiring a judicial determination that the individual is incapable of making decisions independently. Guardianship is more encompassing, often granting the guardian the right to make most or all important decisions regarding personal and financial matters.

One of the key differences is the level of control and independence retained by the young adult with a disability. A power of attorney can maintain a young adult's autonomy by activating only under certain conditions, while guardianship typically involves ongoing oversight. This can affect the young adult's sense of independence and self-determination, which is an important consideration for many families.

The choice between these two options can have significant implications for the young adult's future. Power of attorney arrangements are often preferred for those who retain some decision-making capacity, while guardianship may be more suitable for those who require greater levels of support. The decision should be guided by the young adult's abilities, needs, and the family's circumstances.

Guardianship may be particularly appropriate for a vulnerable young adult whose disability significantly impairs their ability to make informed decisions about their health, safety, and general welfare. In such cases, a guardian can provide the necessary oversight and protection, making crucial decisions on behalf of the young adult, which might include medical treatments, living arrangements, and financial management. This legal arrangement ensures that the young adult's needs are met through decisions made by a responsible and caring individual who has the authority to act in the young adult's best interest, providing peace of mind to both the individual and their family. 

In conclusion, when determining the most appropriate course of action for a young adult with disabilities, it's essential to consult with legal professionals who specialize in special needs planning. They can provide guidance tailored to the individual's situation, ensuring that the young adult's rights and well-being are protected. Whether choosing a power of attorney or guardianship, the goal is to support the young adult in leading a fulfilling and secure life.

Estate Planning

Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney


Adult Guardianship, Supported Decision-Making, Limited Guardianship

Special Needs Planning:

Special Needs Trusts, DDD & ALTCS Planning

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Phone: 480-699-3145

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Emily R. Taylor is an attorney licensed by the State Bar of Arizona.  Emily Taylor practices in the areas of Special Needs Planning, Guardianships (and its alternatives), Estate Planning, and Special Needs Trusts.  The office of Emily R. Taylor, Attorney PLLC is located in Phoenix, Arizona.  Emily Taylor is available to consult on legal matters throughout the state of Arizona.

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