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Guardianship Options for Adult Disabled Children


Disability is often associated with elderly and those nearing the end of life, but for a variety of reasons, from an injury to a genetic issue, disability can strike a person of any age. Parents with disabled children face many challenges when seeking the care and support their child needs to navigate the world, which continues even after the child becomes an adult. Legal issues make this transition even trickier, because without certain measures in place, the parent will not be able to act on his/her child’s behalf, as they did when the child was a minor. Guardianship is the arrangement most commonly used to address this situation, as it allows a third party to make decisions on a person’s behalf who is unable to do so due to physical and/or mental limitations or being under legal adult age. However, the level of assistance a disabled adult needs varies by person, and a traditional guardianship may not be necessary or best serve the person who needs assistance. To help parents with adult disabled children find the right level of support, the Florida Justice Technology Center funded the development of a new website to guide parents about the pertinent legal issues and how to address them. Establishing the appropriate type of guardianship involves many considerations, and parents facing this decision should consult with a guardianship attorney to learn all their options. A discussion of the kinds of guardianship a parent can set up to deal with medical and financial decisions for an adult disabled child will follow below.

Guardian Advocate

As noted above, when a person reaches the age of 18, regardless of his/her ability to handle legal responsibilities, a parent’s right to direct medical treatment or handle the child’s finances ends. When a person is disabled, exercising adult responsibilities may not be fully possible. However, full guardianship is expensive to set up, requires a much longer process, and could result in the removal of more rights than are necessary. A guardian advocate is a less restrictive alternative that is available for individuals who have certain developmental disabilities and retain some ability to handle their own affairs or voluntarily petition for this oversight. The guardian advocate process does not require adjudicating the disabled individual as legally incapacitated, which is a big advantage for everyone. A guardian advocate, similar to a standard guardian, is appointed by the court, once a petition is filed, and the developmental disabilities that qualify for this process include:

  • Cerebral palsy;
  • Autism;
  • Spina bifida; and
  • Prader-Willi syndrome.

The rights transferred to the advocate, or retained by the disabled individual, will vary according to the circumstances of each case, and the same reporting and legal duties of loyalty and serving the ward’s best interests that apply in full guardianships will apply here as well. Overall, the benefit of this option is less time and money for the person petitioning for the authority, and typically more retention of rights by the ward.

Traditional Guardianship

In situations where a developmental disability is not present, or broad authority is needed to cover all aspects of a person’s life, a traditional guardianship is the route a parent will likely have to take. Guardianships require a court finding the disabled individual is legally incapacitated, and will appoint a guardian to oversee his/her financial and/or personal affairs to the extent the examining committee believes the person can function on his/her own. The extent of the guardianship will depend upon the needs of the ward, but more restrictions are usually imposed compared with a guardian advocate. Other options, outside of the guardianship process, may also be available, and each situation should be discussed with a guardianship attorney.

Get Legal Advice

Caring for a disabled adult child takes planning and legal structure to facilitate the necessary amount of oversight. If you have questions about establishing a guardianship of any kind, speak with the attorneys at the office of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. for more information. This is an important decision that needs to be fully understood before put into motion. Our Fort Lauderdale law firm is here to answer all your questions on guardianship. Contact us for a free consultation.



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