May 2020

Turning 18: Student Empowerment Through Decision-Making Options

Oh age 18, the moment so many students wait for as finally they are considered an adult. But what does that really mean for a student? What are their options as they transition into adulthood? The Age of Majority, Transfer of Rights, what as a special educator do I need to know?

A large part of our job is to teach students how to advocate for themselves when it comes to making decisions for their future. It is important to teach this skill early and often throughout a student’s education. When students need support in making decisions, we provide them with options within their support circle such as: parents, family members, friends, teachers, case managers, etc. Beginning at age 18, these supports need to become formal in order for a student to continue receiving the support they need.

What Do Educators Need To Know?

The age of majority is the legal age established in a state at which an individual is no longer considered a minor and now has the rights and responsibilities of an adult. In Wisconsin the legal age of majority is 18. Once a student with an IEP reaches the age of 18, all of the educational rights provided to parents transfer to the student unless the student is not his or her own guardian. These educational rights include:

  • the right to receive notice of and attend the IEP meeting
  • the right to consent to an evaluation
  • the right to consent to a change of placement
  • the right to request mediation or due process hearing to resolve a dispute

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has several forms that help notify the student and family of the transfer of rights. These forms include:

  • M-6 Notification of Upcoming Transfer of Rights
  • M-7 Student Notification of Transfer of Rights
  • M-8 Parent Notification of Transfer of Rights

Beginning not later than one year before the student reaches the age of majority under State law (which is 18 in Wisconsin), the IEP must include a statement that the student has been informed that the rights of the parent will transfer to the adult student when they turn 18. {34 CFR § 300.320[c]).

Parents and students must be notified of the upcoming transfer of rights at least one year before the student’s 18th birthday and it must be included in the student’s IEP (71 Fed. Reg. 46,713 [2006]). This means that the M-6 notice should be discussed at the IEP meeting for the term in which the student turns age 17, and a copy should be sent home with the finalized IEP paperwork.

The M-6 is designed to be discussed with both the student and the parent(s) in person at the IEP team meeting for the year the student turns 17. The M-6 notice should also be sent to both the parent(s) and the student. The M-6 for the parent can be attached to the IEP, and the M-6 for the student should be sent to the student’s home address.

The PTP application also includes a prompt to ensure the student and parent(s) have been notified of the upcoming transfer of rights at least one year before the student reaches age 18. If this form is discussed at the IEP meeting for the year in which the student turns 17 and a copy is provided to the parent(s) and the student, a simple statement such as “the M-6 form was discussed at the IEP team meeting and mailed to the parent(s) and student” is sufficient for documentation in the PTP (Instruction 2019).

More information on completing these forms can be found in the Special Education Forms Guide.

Decision-Making Support Options

Decision-making options are a complicated concept for the student and their family to consider. Families often struggle with taking all rights away from the student, but also want to make sure the family member is safe and protected. They frequently turn to an educator to assist them in finding more information and at times asking educators for advice. It is important for educators to have an understanding and materials to provide to the student and family on decision-making options to build a system of support for the student as they transition out of secondary education. If guardianship is a consideration, it is important to provide resources about not only guardianship, but also Power of Attorney, Representative Payee, Supported Decision-Making and having release forms signed as viable options.

As stated above, there are several options for students with disabilities as they become adults to be supported and live a full meaningful life. When considering all options, start with the least limiting option, whereas the student retains their right to make independent decisions as they plan for adulthood. Considering more limited options begins with a release of information form, followed by obtaining a Representative Payee or a Power of Attorney which can assist families in providing support and safeguards to an individual's medical or financial needs without obtaining full guardianship restrictions of the student.

Supported Decision-Making is a rather new concept that allows the student abilities to make their own decisions as well, but also have a support team to assist them in doing so. The supported decision-making agreements are recognized as a legal arrangement in Wisconsin state law. The most limiting choice is to obtain limited or full guardianship of the individual.

The graphic below demonstrates the spectrum of decision-making tools available to individuals with disabilities.

(BPDD 2020)
Big picture

Decision-Making Support Options

It is imperative for the IEP team to have a discussion regarding all decision-making options to assist in preparing the student and family for possibilities regarding guardianship and guardianship alternatives as the student approaches age 18. The descriptions below provide more detail on the current decision-making support options from the least limiting options to the more limiting options.

Release of information form is a signed release form of the adult student to give access to another individual to obtain information from organizations/individuals such as: the school district, adult service agencies, medical facilities, institutions of higher education, family members or parents. Release of information forms are generally provided by the organization in which information is being obtained.

Wisconsin law formally recognized Supported Decision-Making agreements as legal documents that allow individuals to retain their right to make their own decisions, while also choosing trusted people (called Supporters) to help them gather and understand information, compare options, and communicate their decisions to others. Supported Decision-Making agreements can be used for any decision the individual feels they need additional support such as: housing, health care, financial affairs, or other areas the person identifies on the Supported Decision-Making agreement. Supported Decision-Making agreements can be found within the Supported Decision-Making Toolkit on the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities website at http://wi-bpdd.org/index.php/SupportedDecision-Making/ (BPDD, 2020).

A Representative Payee can be appointed to assist an individual in managing their Social Security or Supplemental Security (SSI) benefits. The “Rep Payee” has authority to decide what the best use of the beneficiary's fund are such as: paying rent, food, medical and other living expenses are priorities. Rep Payees are accountable for all SSI funds and must provide an annual report to the Social Security Administration on how they have used the funds to benefit the individual (Administration 2020).

There are two types of Power of Attorney (POA) options to consider, one for health care and the other for finances. A Power of Attorney for health care allows another individual to make health care decisions on the person’s behalf under certain circumstances. The POA for health care can be written in a variety of ways; what and when authority is granted, and for how long are all decisions that should be outlined in a POA agreement.

A Power of Attorney for finances allows another person to make financial decisions on the individual’s behalf. A written document provides the authority the agreed upon person has in handling the individual’s finances.

Forms for obtaining a Power of Attorney for Health Care or Finance can be found on the Wisconsin Department of Health Services at https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/forms/advdirectives/index.htm

Guardianship is a legal process and relationship created through a court process. This relationship is formed between the “proposed ward,” who is the subject of the guardianship, and the “proposed guardian,” who is the legal decision-maker for the ward, after the ward is determined by a court to be “incompetent”. The relationship is created by the court when the “petitioner”, the person who files the guardianship, proves the required elements showing that the ward is incompetent and needs a guardian. Guardianship should be considered when there are no less restrictive alternatives available (Inc. 2019).

Guardianship forms can be found on the Wisconsin Court Systems website at https://www.wicourts.gov/forms1/circuit/formcategory.jsp?Category=17

All options listed above have value in their purpose. It is important for the IEP team to see the vision of the student and assist them in reaching their goals once they leave the secondary setting. Determining the best options for the student takes time and planning throughout the transition process, therefore the student and their family need this information provided to them early. Our goal is to see students thrive as they accomplish their future goals while becoming as independent as possible.


Information Update Bulletin 19.01: Supported Decision-Making Agreements


Guardianship Support Center


When your child turns 18; A guide to Special Needs Guardianship


Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities-Supported Decision-Making and Guardianship Alternatives


National Resource Center for Supported Decision-Making


When People Need Help Managing Their Money


Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Forms Information-Advance Directives


Guardianship of Adults



Administration, Social Security. 2020. When People Need Help Managing Their Money. Accessed April 2020. https://www.ssa.gov/payee/.

BPDD, WI. 2020. Supported Decision-Making and Guardianship Alternatives. Accessed April 24, 2020. https://wi-bpdd.org/index.php/supporteddecision-making/.

Inc., Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources. 2019. "Guardianship Support Center." GWAAR. April . Accessed April 2020. https://www.google.com/search?q=gwar+transitioning+to+adulthood%3A+Guardianship+and+children+with+significant+disabilities&rlz=1C1GCEA_enUS884US884&oq=gwar+transitioning+to+adulthood%3A+Guardianship+and+children+with+significant+disabilities&aqs=chrome..6.

Instruction, Wisconsin Department of Public. 2019. Sample Special Education Forms. May. Accessed April 24, 2020. https://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/sped/pdf/forms-guide.pdf#page=156.