Q&A-Guardianship for your Child With Special Needs

Are you a parent or caregiver of an adult child with special needs?

If so, then you know firsthand that parenting a child beyond adolescence and into young adulthood can bring its own set of joys and challenges.

Stasia recently sat down with a father of two adult children with special needs to discuss his personal experiences as well as the advantages (and hurdles) that can accompany the process of obtaining guardianship.

Their discussion is featured in the current issue of the Attachment and Trauma Network’s “Therapeutic Parenting Journal.” (p.12)

Paraphrased excerpts from the conversation are below and you can find the link to the full article here:

The first thing a parent should know is that guardianship over a child with special needs isn’t a “one size fits all” proposition.  Each child is unique and each child has specific gifts and limitations and, ideally, the guardianship proceedings and resulting order should reflect that.

A good guardianship attorney will work with parents and a child’s medical provider to provide evidence to the guardianship court about the specific situation that a family is facing.  Once this evidence is presented to the court, the judge can ‘customize’ a guardianship order to indicate whether a parent has the authority to make decisions regarding health care, school, housing, etc. (which is known as “guardianship over the person” in Indiana) and/or whether the parent has the authority to manage finances on behalf of their child (known as “guardianship over the estate.”)

  • The most obvious benefit of a guardianship order is that it provides clear legal authority for a guardian parent to deal with third parties on behalf of their child.  When proof of guardianship is presented to entities like school administrators, government agencies, medical providers, and financial institutions, the guardian is legally entitled to receive what is typically protected information and make decisions accordingly.  Doors may open more quickly.
  • A guardianship order can help to protect a vulnerable person from questionable financial decisions or from being taken advantage of by unscrupulous people. Some young adults with disabilities are, unfortunately, prime targets for financial exploitation. They can be persuaded to sign leases, buy cars or apply for credit cards by others who appear to be their friends.  The good news is that a guardianship order can prove that the person under guardianship doesn’t have the authority to enter into these contracts with third parties.
  • Proof of guardianship can be presented to law enforcement and may help to diffuse encounters with the police. While having a guardian isn’t a “get out of jail free” card, it may have some value. Guardianship can sometimes act as a shield in some minor offenses, such as shoplifting.  But parents shouldn’t believe that a guardianship order will prevent courts from holding their young adult child accountable for criminal liability, especially in the cases of felonies and other serious misconduct.
  • Having a guardianship in place provides a process to have a judge approve major decisions.
  • A guardianship order may provide potential access to continued special education services, vocational training services, day programs, or living arrangements.

 Some potential drawbacks to guardianship may include the following:

  • There are financial obligations that accompany guardianship proceedings, including filing fees, and attorney fees and costs associated with ongoing reporting requirements.
  • The legal requirements of guardianship can be somewhat time-consuming.  Guardians who are managing finances on behalf of an adult child are required to submit periodic guardianship accountings and status reports to the Court.  There is legal liability associated with these tasks.
  • The process can be emotionally tumultuous for a young adult who has the capacity to understand that a guardianship order will limit his or her financial and/or personal choices.
  • The process can also be emotionally difficult if family members disagree about who should serve as guardian.   (A licensed mediator can sometimes help families in these situations.)

All children deserve dignity and compassion as their family moves through the process of obtaining guardianship.  Truthfully, it’s the families that are doing the real work here.  Your attorney can help put the wheels in motion to initiate a guardianship proceeding but, once the order is entered, you are still your child’s greatest advocate.”

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