Should You Consider a Legal Guardianship for Your Teen with Special Needs?

As a teen with special needs approaches adulthood, parents must become familiar with their options for staying in control of their child’s affairs. Under the law, adults have the right to make their own decisions and they are afforded privacy surrounding their financial, personal, and medical matters.

This can obviously be a problem if the young adult has certain disabilities or cognitive impairments. If the child is unable to pay bills, communicate with doctors, make medical decisions, secure housing, etc., the parents may still be blocked from helping their child under HIPAA and other privacy laws.

One way to retain the right to act on the child’s behalf is to petition the Virginia courts for a legal guardianship. If a guardianship is ultimately granted, the parent will take over control and the child will lose his or her ability to make independent decisions. For the majority of adults with special needs, this is a non-issue, as they depend on their parents to oversee every aspect of their day-to-day affairs and personal well-being.

However, there are situations when a young adult with special needs is high-functioning and capable of living a semi-independent or in some case an entirely independent life.  In these cases, it may be more appropriate to pursue a limited guardianship or become the child’s Financial Power of Attorney and Healthcare Power of Attorney. Again, each of these options depends on the nature of the child’s disabilities and his or her ability to sign legal documents and understand the consequences of their actions.

It can be difficult to decide which path is best to take as a teenager with special needs approaches adulthood. We generally encourage parents to consider the following when weighing their options:

  • Can the child communicate his or her needs clearly and accurately to others?
  • Does the child have the ability to live independently, including the ability to perform chores, safely operate household appliances, and follow a schedule?
  • Could the child independently make medical decisions regarding his or her care?
  • Can the child properly administer his or her medications and does he or she understand dosing?
  • Does the child have the capacity to give medical consent?
  • Is the child aware of dangers to his or her personal safety?
  • Can the child safely prepare meals?
  • Does the child have the capacity to enter into a romantic relationship or marriage?
  • Can the child independently maintain personal hygiene?
  • Does the child have the capacity to safely own weapons?
  • Is the child able to drive or does he or she have the ability to learn to drive?
  • Does the child understand the consequences of entering into a contract?
  • Is the child able to make wise decisions about discretionary purchases?

If you answered “no” to any of the above questions, it may be in your family’s best interest to learn more about becoming your child’s legal guardian.  At our Virginia law firm, we focus on Special Needs Planning and helping parents prepare for the future. If you’d like to schedule an appointment to discuss your options for becoming your child’s legal guardian or prepare Powers of Attorney for your Special Needs Adult Child, please contact us at 866-603-5976 or 757 645-3186.





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