Age of majority is the age when children legally become adults. At this time, they gain the rights of adults, which include the right to vote, marry, apply for a credit card, make medical and financial decisions for themselves, sign contracts, live independently, and much more. In most states the age of majority is age 18.
We invite you to read this tip sheet for parents to learn more about:
- Who decides the age of majority
- The age of majority in your state
- What the transfer of parental rights means for parents, youth with disabilities, and school systems
- Tips for parents
- Concerns about competency: IDEA’s special rule
- What about guardianship and other options?
- Definitions, please!
- Resources and helpful connections
- Other tip sheets in this series
- Acknowledgements, with many thanks!
National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center (NSTTAC)
National Post-School Outcomes Center (NPSO)
In collaboration with:
Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR)
Who Decides the Age of Majority?
Each state sets the age of majority for young people in the state. In most states the age of majority is age 18. The state also decides if a parent’s rights will transfer to the student when he or she reaches the age of majority.
What’s the Age of Majority in Your State?
You can find out the age of majority in your state at:
What Does the Transfer of Rights Mean for Parents, Youth with Disabilities, and Schools?
Depending on your state’s policies, many or all of your rights as a parent may transfer to your son or daughter at age of majority. (Read more about parental rights of children with disabilities.) If so, then at least one year before your son or daughter with a disability reaches the age of majority, the school must let you and your young person know about any upcoming transfer of rights.
New responsibilities | If your rights transfer to your son or daughter, he or she will have new responsibilities. These include but aren’t limited to:
Participating in individualized education program (IEP) meetings (Your child must be invited to the IEP meeting starting at age 16, but it’s a good idea to start earlier. And many states do!)
Deciding who is invited to the IEP meeting (e.g., parents, adult service providers, people who know about and understand your son or daughter’s disability)
Making decisions about what IEP and post-school goals to include in the plan
Giving signed consent for re-evaluation and changes in placement
Deciding whether or not to continue his or her education
Requesting mediation or other ways to resolve disputes
These are important responsibilities. Is your son or daughter “ready” to take charge of his or her education? What about planning for life after high school? Many parents would probably answer, no, not yet! There is so much to learn still!
The bottom line | The truth of the matter is that age of majority happens whether your son or daughter is “ready” or not. And it happens whether you, as the parent, are ready or not! That’s why it’s a good idea to:
- Take advantage of your child’s growing years to build skills needed in the future.
- Connect with your state’s Parent Center and disability-related community agencies to learn about webinars or workshops they offer related to transition planning.
- Foster a team approach that involves your son or daughter.
- Lay a solid foundation through discussions, guided support and decision-making, respect, and opportunities for your son or daughter to learn the basic skills that an adult needs.
This tip sheet offers suggestions for doing just that.
Tips for Parents
- Start Early: Building confidence and decision-making skills takes time and practice.
As your child grows, let him or her make decisions appropriate to his or her age. This will help prepare your young person for making decisions in adulthood.
Lay the foundation for the coming age of majority
Over time, talk with your son or daughter about the age of majority and what it means to take on the responsibilities of an adult. Examples include:
- Paying your bills
- Getting a copy of your social security card and birth certificate
- Managing your own health care
- Living independently
- Getting from place to place (e.g., by car, bus, taxi, subway)
- Registering to vote
- Registering for the selective service (males only)
- Signing contracts (for example, to rent an apartment or to make a big purchase such as a car)
Help your young person develop self-knowledge by discussing his or her disability
No one has a greater stake in transition planning than the student with a disability. That’s one reason why learning to be an effective self-advocate is a critical part of each student’s transition process. Self-advocacy skills help young people shape their own lives and futures. Therefore, over time, explore these important topics with your son or daughter.
Talk with your child about his or her disability. Ask how the disability affects your son or daughter at school, at home, in daily life. Listen to the answers. Discuss.
Also discuss what supports or accommodations help your son or daughter at school, at home, and in daily life. You may be surprised at how on-target and helpful your child’s perspective is!
Help your child discover his or her preferences and how to share that information with others. Having good social skills is an important personal asset, now and in the future.
Explore the hopes and dreams your son or daughter has for the future. Help translate these into step-by-step goals.
Are there things that your son or daughter will likely not be able to do in reality, given his or her disability? Explore these, too, in a positive and supportive way.
Talk about disability rights and responsibilities under IDEA, Section 504, and the ADA
Rights | Let your child know that he or she has rights under federal laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (608 kb), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Talk about those rights. Give concrete examples, especially related to postsecondary education, employment, and life in the community.
IEP meetings | Encourage your son or daughter to attend, participate in, and eventually lead the meeting where his or her IEP is written. Let your son or daughter know that he or she may invite other people to the meeting. That includes you when he or she reaches the age of majority!
Role-play | Role-play IEP meetings ahead of time with your son or daughter. Practice how to greet the other team members, state individual goals, offer suggestions or respectfully disagree, and thank members for their participation.
Prepare your young adult for the future by discussing adult options and choices
Explore options | Explore what options and choices we have as adults with your son or daughter over time. There are plenty of examples in daily life you can use to spark the discussion—recreation choices, driving, living independently, getting a job or going on to postsecondary education, enjoying oneself with friends. These are the kinds of choices and decisions that your son or daughter will be making now or in the future. Talking about them can be fun, too.
Team with adults | Encourage your son or daughter to develop good working relationships with adults. This includes the school staff in high school and, later, employers, fellow employees, landlords, and adult service providers.
Talk about accommodations | Let your youth know that accommodations are available in postsecondary education and work settings. Give examples and discuss. What accommodations or supports would be helpful to your son or daughter in these settings?
Disclosing the disability | Practice with your youth when and how to disclose the disability to an employer or a postsecondary school. Also role-play how to ask for accommodations.
Model | Model the decision-making process by “thinking aloud.” State the issues and options you are considering, mull over the pros and cons of each, and allow your son or daughter to see you arrive at a decision.
Let your youth decide! | Give your young person regular opportunities to make his or her own choices. As necessary, help your son or daughter walk through weighing the pros and cons of each option. Then leave the decision up to your child.
Mistakes | Allow your son or daughter to make mistakes. When it isn’t a matter of health and safety, he or she can learn from poor choices, just like the rest of us have.
Concerns about Competency: IDEA’s Special Rule
IDEA includes a “special rule” about transfer of parental rights when students with disabilities reach the age of majority. The special rule relates to young people:
- who do not have the ability to provide informed consent to their educational programs, but
- who have not been determined by a court to be “incompetent.”
In such cases, states may adopt policies that allow parents to continue representing their son or daughter, even after the age of majority is reached. Parents would continue to represent their young person during the entire time the student is eligible for services under Part B of IDEA.
All this is to say: If you feel that your son or daughter does not have the ability to provide informed consent to his or her special education program, be sure to check your state’s policies. (To find out your state’s policies, contact your Parent Center.) Most states have procedures that would allow you to continue representing your son or daughter’s educational interests after the age of majority. Your son or daughter can still ask that you be included in all IEP team meetings and that you help them make any decisions requiring a signature.
What about Guardianship and Other Options?
Letting children grow up and take charge of their lives is a challenge for many, many parents. It’s hard to stand back, watch, and let go. When a young person has a disability that seriously affects decision-making, the challenge of “letting go” is that much greater.
Options? | For some parents, the question of assuming guardianship of their son or daughter will arise. There are other options to be considered as well, such as conservatorship or having an educational advocate. If these possibilities have crossed your mind, you’ll need to find out more—much more—before taking action.
Guardianship as a legal matter | Securing guardianship of your son or daughter is a legal matter that has consequences for both parents and offspring. By its very nature, guardianship is quite restrictive—for example, under guardianship, the person is typically considered “incompetent.” He or she is usually stripped of the authority to make decisions that is granted to adults.
Suggestions to consider | If you feel you need to learn more about future care-taking options for your son or daughter, here are a few suggestions to get started:
Learn how your state defines guardianship. What guardianship options exist, and what are the laws that govern them?
Find out the differences between guardianship, conservatorship, and having an educational advocate. What would each mean for you and for your son or daughter?
Determine the best way to provide support to your son or daughter. What is the least restrictive way to provide your young person with the support he or she needs to make decisions?
Determine the level of support needed for your son or daughter. How much support does your son/daughter need to make sound decisions and choices? Does he or she need support, for example, in identifying when to make a decision? In exploring options? In coping with the consequences of choices? What types of supports does he or she need?
Consider the “informal” supports your son or daughter already has (e.g., a network of family or friends). Are these enough to support him or her in decision-making, or will more supports be needed?
The time to explore options for supporting your son or daughter in the future is while you are still the one responsible for making decisions about his or her education, safety, and well being. That way, you have time and opportunity on your side. You can support your son or daughter’s growth and learning, build his or her capacity to make good decisions, and cultivate the team approach we mentioned earlier in this tip sheet.
To Learn More about the Pros and Cons of Guardianship
National Guardianship Association
National Health Care Transition Center
Webinar: Understanding Guardianship and the Alternatives for Decision Making Support (58 minutes)
Note: The following definitions contain the common elements of each term from various sources. However, specifics will vary from state to state. Therefore, it is recommended that you refer to your state’s specific definition for each term for a complete understanding of the legal processes that will guide your choices. Terms are presented in alphabetical order.
Age of Majority | This is the age that a state sets for a minor to become an adult and assume legal responsibility for himself/herself and all decisions that accompany that (e.g., financial, medical, educational). In most states, this is age 18.
Guardianship | Guardianship is “a court-ordered arrangement in which one person is given the legal authority to make decisions on behalf of another person whom a court has deemed to be ‘incapacitated.'” A guardian can be removed or replaced via a petition to the court. Guardianship can come in many forms and can apply to several areas, as shown below.
Types of Guardianship
Ad Litem | A guardian ad litem is arranged for a designated time period for a designated purpose (e.g., settling a lawsuit).
Emergency/Temporary | Emergency or temporary guardianship is arranged in situations where immediate action is necessary to protect the ward in some manner. Ninety days is a common limit to how long an emergency/temporary guardianship can be in effect.
Full/General/Plenary | Full guardianship transfers legal authority for all aspects of a ward’s life to the guardian. This includes, but is not limited to, making decisions concerning the ward’s “living arrangements, education, social activities, medical care, right to marry and association with others.”
Limited | Limited guardianship is an arrangement in which a guardian is given legal rights to make decision only in certain areas of a ward’s life (e.g., health care).
Testamentary | Testamentary guardianship is an arrangement in which a current guardian designates a successor guardian for a ward in a will. Upon the original guardian passing away, the successor guardian assumes the legal responsibility for the ward.
Incapacitation/Incompetency | An incapacitated or incompetent person is someone who the courts determine is unable to make “informed decisions” about his or her personal care or the care of his or her affairs due to a mental illness, physical illness, disability, or other condition. These decisions can include decisions about the person’s finances, residence, education, vocational programs, behavioral programs, medical or dental care, or legal matters. The level of incapacitation is a threshold issue that determines what level of guardianship is granted.
Ward | The term “ward” refers to the individual who is under guardianship as a result of being deemed incapacitated or incompetent by the courts.
Resources and Helpful Connections
Growing up is natural, it’s inevitable, and it’s exciting. We hope that this tip sheet has helped you and your young person get ready. May all our sons and daughters go forth, make their foolish mistakes despite our warnings, enjoy their triumphs, ask for our help when they need it, and build their lives as independently and satisfyingly as possible.
Need more information? | Consult the list of resources listed below.
Your state’s PTI or CPRC
Every state has at least one Parent Training and Information Center. Many states also have a Community Parent Resource Center. Both are excellent resources for parents and young adults to consult during transition planning and afterwards. There, you and your son or daughter can connect with the network of disability-related resources and agencies in your state and community, attend workshops on topics of importance, find answers to disability questions, and much more. Find your Parent Center at:
Age of Majority | What IDEA requires and what age of majority means
Age of Majority in Your State
National Resource Center for Supported Decision-Making
Transition to Adulthood Suite
This suite is made up of 9 webpages of resources on the entire transition and postsecondary process, including transition planning in secondary school, getting students involved in writing their own IEP, independent living, finding adult services, and connections to employment and postsecondary education connections.
Other Tip Sheets in This Series
This tip sheet is part of a series written to support parents and youth with disabilities as youth approach the “age of majority.” The series includes:
- Getting Ready for When Your Teen Reaches the Age of Majority: A Parent’s Guide (this tip sheet)
- Getting Ready for Healthcare at the Age of Majority
- Getting Ready for Managing Finances at the Age of Majority
- Getting Ready for Independent Living at the Age of Majority
These tip sheets are copyright free, so please do feel free to share them with others.
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**Highly Rated Resource! This resource was reviewed by 3-member panels of Parent Center staff working independently from one another to rate the quality, relevance, and usefulness of CPIR resources. This resource was found to be of “High Quality, High Relevance, High Usefulness” to Parent Centers.
Acknowledgements, with Many Thanks!
Collaborating partners | This tip sheet was developed in collaboration between the:
- National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center (NSTTAC)
- National Post-School Outcomes Center (NPSO)
- Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR)
Thanks to reviewers | We extend our appreciation to the many stakeholders (e.g., parents, students, SEAs, LEAs) for their generous ideas, support, and time in the development of these tools.
Special thanks to Parent Center reviewers | Special thanks goes out to Barb Buswell, Bebe Bode, Laura Nata, and Dorie France for providing guidance throughout the project. Without their contributions, these fact sheets would not have been possible. Thank you.
Cooperative agreement references | This document was developed by the:
- National Post-School Outcomes Center, Eugene, Oregon (funded by Cooperative Agreement Number H326U090001) with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services;
- National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center, Charlotte, NC (funded by Cooperative Agreement Number H326J11001) with the U.S. Department of Education; and
- Center for Parent Information and Resources, Newark, NJ (funded by Cooperative Agreement Number H328R130014) with the U. S. Department of Education.
This document has NOT been reviewed and approved by the Office of Special Education Programs. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Department of Education.
OSEP Project Officers | Carmen Sánchez and Dr. Selete Avoke
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