Oh My Gosh, My Special Needs Child is About to Become a Legal Adult!

February 5, 2009

Knowing that your special needs child is about to become “of majority age” can strike fear in the heart.  If you doubt your child’s ability to make her own financial, legal, and health care decisions, there are a few things you need to do before she turns 18.  (If she is already 18 or older, it’s not too late, it’s just best to do these things earlier.)

Here is a scenario: Your 18 year old child is on an outing with her Asberger’s social support group, has an accident, and goes to the emergency room.  Now that she is 18, even though you have been her voice and advocate her entire life, the ER staff cannot take orders from you if you don’t have certain legal documents in place

If your child is able to discuss these matters with you (in legal terms, we call this “competency”), then have a discussion (or a few) about having her sign a Durable Power of Attorney and a Health Care Proxy.  These documents will allow someone to act as her surrogate, primarily during times when she can’t make her own decisions.  When she is able to, she is in the driver’s seat.  The Durable Power of Attorney would allow you or another adult to handle her financial and legal affairs, and the Health Care Proxy would let someone else make health care decisions.  

For a child who is not able to understand and sign such documents, you will need to pursue a guardianship.  This is a court proceeding. When everyone in the family agrees on who should act as guardian, it is a straight-forward process.