Turning 18 years old in our society means a person has reached the age of majority and now has legal rights that were once controlled by parents. Those rights could include decisions about medical treatment, finances, and/or living conditions. These are the types of heavy and important decisions that parents of special needs children lose sleep over and have anxieties about since their child was first diagnosed. If only worry and anxiety could slow time and make long term planning for a special needs child easier. Alas, it can not. There is some peace of mind in planning ahead, however. Becoming a legal guardian is one of the ways that parents can ease the transition and continue to make or at least be a part of the decision making process.
Guardianship is a legal proceeding in which someone (usually a family member) asks the court to find that a person is unable to manage his or her affairs effectively because of a disability. Autism is one such disability that is considered. A guardian steps in the shoes of the person with a disability and makes the decisions for them. The process of gaining guardianship can be serious and time-consuming not to mention costly. This decision should be thoroughly researched and all the options considered. We suggest the advice of a family law attorney or a special needs attorney as well as the input of the child’s therapists, counselors and teachers to help you and your family decide if this is the right path for you or your child. (Special Needs Resources)
There are essentially three forms of guardianship: Guardianship of the Person, Guardianship of the Estate/Property, or Guardian of both the Person and the Estate. Of these, full Legal Guardianship covering both property and person is the most intensive. There are also alternatives to guardianship such as Trusts, Assisted Living Services or even a Durable Power of Attorney. Deciding wheat level of guardianship that is right for your family can be difficult so plan ahead and start thinking about the transition well in advance. Protecting your child while still providing some independence can be juggling act. Here are some resources to get you started with your research.