As children with special needs approach age 18 (the age of legal majority in most states), many parents are overwhelmed with the new issues that they face as their children become adults.
It’s a busy time in your child’s life as you deal with new decisions. Should your child graduate now or would it be best to continue school until age 21 (or whenever they are allowed in your state)? How do you make the decision of whether your child should apply for social security and other public benefits? You then deal with the challenges associated with actually getting approved for benefits. There is the concern of how to provide health insurance for your child should he or she no longer be eligible through their current plan.
Maybe though the most frightening issue for many parents are the concerns associated with their child turning 18 and becoming a legal adult, and the lack of parent rights to continue to get information. New issues arise with your child reaching adulthood, such as you no longer having control over their financial issues, the inability to receive information on your child in IEP meetings or from your family physician.
This isn’t to scare parents as we all realize that the child will typically invite their parents into their IEP meeting and the family physician, who has been seeing your child for years, typically will keep you tuned in.
It should concern you though that technically you no longer have a right to this information. If your child is 18 and you and your child happen to not be getting along that day, your child can tell you that they do not want you to come into the IEP meeting. If you have to see another physician that day for some reason, or there is an emergency at another hospital, you have no legal right to information.
It is vital that you think through your options as your child approaches age 18 and decide how to best protect your child.
Some organizations will preach to you that every parent of a child with special needs should have guardianship. Other organizations will tell you that no one should have guardianship beyond age 18. I’m here to tell you that both of those statements are wrong, every family is unique, and that your job is to explore guardianship and the alternatives and see what works best for your family and your child.
The legal definitions of guardianship is:
“A legal relationship created by a court between a guardian and his ward–either a minor child or an incapacitated adult. The guardian has a legal right and duty to care for the ward. This may involve making personal decisions on his or her behalf, managing property or both. Guardianships of incapacitated adults are more typically called conservatorships.”
Understand guardianship can also be obtained in a limited form, most often limited guardianship over financial or medical matters. If your child is fairly independent, needs your guidance in handling money or making medical decisions, but is independent in other areas, limited guardianship may be more appropriate.
Another alternative to full guardianship is obtaining durable powers of attorney for your children. Durable powers are defined as:
A legal document that allows an individual to appoint someone else (proxy) to
make medical or health care decisions, financial decisions, etc, in the event the individual becomes unable to make and/or communicate such decisions personally.
The key here is that for you to obtain durable powers, your child must be cognitively aware of the authority that they are giving you. However, if this is an option it should be considered.
Ultimately, you need to educate yourself on available options as your child approaches adulthood, likely searching out professional help from an attorney or qualified special needs advisor before making your final decision.