Pros & Cons of Guardianship for Adults With Intellectual Disabilities

Written by kimberly turtenwald
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Pros & Cons of Guardianship for Adults With Intellectual Disabilities
Some adults with intellectual disabilities do not require a guardian. (George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

When a person has an intellectual disability, he may or may not be able to rationally make the decisions required in life, such as where to live, what to spend money on and what is necessary to buy. If the disability is severe enough that a person is unable to make these daily decisions and lead a normal life, a parent or other person may step in to obtain guardianship. Having guardianship over an adult with an intellectual disability has its pros and cons.

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If an intellectually disabled person is deemed to be unable to coherently make decisions and lead an independent life, an adult guardian may be appointed to handle the person's affairs. This offers the disabled person security with her money and her life. Without a guardian to see over her finances and other affairs, people may take advantage of the disabled person by convincing her to make poor decisions that do not benefit her at all. With a guardian in place, the guardian can make all decisions to protect the disabled person.


Sometimes a person with intellectual disabilities is not surrounded by a strong support system. He is left to advocate for himself in situations that he may not be mentally capable of handling in the proper, beneficial manner. A legal guardian provides an instant support system for the disabled person and allows someone to advocate for him when necessary. People are less likely to take advantage of a disabled person who has someone who can speak up for him and make decisions.


Even though a guardian is the one who can ultimately make the decisions for the intellectually disabled, the person in question can still have input in the situation. It is important to choose a guardian who will look out for the disabled person's best interests at all times. This often includes asking the disabled person what he wants for himself and factoring that into the decision. In some cases, the guardian may step in only when the disabled person is about to make a poor decision.


If a person agrees to become the legal guardian of an adult with an intellectual disability, she is taking on the responsibility for this person's life. The more severe the disability, the greater the responsibility. This level of responsibility can be difficult for some people to handle. Even if the legal guardian is the person's parent, making decisions for another adult is different from making decisions for a child. A guardian must always remember that the decisions are about the disabled person's life, not her own.


A person who becomes the guardian of an adult with an intellectual disability should be someone who will be around when needed. In some cases, this means that an elderly or sickly parent may not be the best choice. In addition, some states do not create permanent guardian relationships in these situations. When permanent guardianship is not available, the guardian must make sure the proper documents are filed and the guardianship renewed properly. For instance, in Texas, adult guardianship is only valid for one year and four months.

Loss of Control

Depending on the level of control that an adult guardian exerts, an intellectually disabled adult may feel as if he has lost control of his life. In some cases, an adult guardian may abuse her powers and exercise excessive control over her charge's life. These decisions may lead to depression and other issues in the life of the disabled person. No one likes to have to relinquish control; while it may be necessary in the case of someone with an intellectual disability, it is still possible to exert too much power.


In many cases, the local court requires accountability by the guardian to ensure that the charge's best interest is being upheld. For instance, in Texas guardians must supply an annual report to the court. This includes financial records to ensure that the money is spent properly. Those who do not comply with the state's accountability laws face termination as guardian. If there is no accountability on the part of the guardian, abuses are more likely to occur.

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