A child’s eighteenth birthday marks his or her entry into adulthood and is an exciting occasion for most families. However, the approach of this milestone may create some angst in the hearts and minds of parents with special needs children. The law considers a person an “adult” upon reaching the age of 18 and it’s at this point that parents are no longer automatically entitled to involvement in their children’s medical and educational decisions. Children with special needs may require more guidance and direction from parents, and parents may need continued involvement in the child’s medical care and educational decisions.
For these reasons, parents of children with special needs may consider seeking a guardianship. The notion of a guardianship may sound daunting as typically a guardianship is an extraordinary measure that divests the ward of legal rights such as the ability to enter contracts and make decisions regarding living arrangements and medical care. A ward may lose his or her right to vote, drive, marry and carry a weapon. However, courts will first insure that a guardianship is warranted in that the intended ward lacks certain capacities and can then tailor the guardianship to suit the needs of the family by allowing for a limited guardianship if there are areas in which the child can function as an adult.
As with any guardianship, the child-ward has the right to counsel, and a guardian ad litem will be appointed to investigate and make recommendations to the court as to the necessity of a guardianship and what guardianship conditions are in the best interests of the child.