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There are many different levels of advocacy available to support an individual living with a disability. Determining the best plan of action first depends on the individual’s level of ability to make decisions for his/herself. Because guardianship is not an automatic process, there are specific legal procedures to follow in order to obtain legal guardianship. As soon as a person turns 18 years old, they are assumed to be legally competent to make independent decisions for themselves which includes decision-making towards personal, medical or financial obligations.

There are two different types of guardianship procedures recognized by New York State:

• Article 17-A Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act

• Article 81 NYS Mental Hygiene Law

The following link has several helpful checklists and DIY forms that can be reviewed and completed by family members who are interested in pursuing guardianship

Because guardianship may not be the right decision for everyone; below are some alternatives that are recognized by the legal system:

• Representative Payee

• Health Care Proxy

• Durable Power of Attorney

Another exceptional support for individuals and families is Mental Hygiene Legal Service (MHLS). MHLS is a New York State agency responsible for representing, advocating and litigating on behalf of individuals receiving services for a mental disability. It is the oldest and most comprehensive legal advocacy program for mentally disabled individuals in the United States. 

A list of the Third Judicial MHLS Department field offices for each specific county in New York State can be found here:

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