Well, your child is turning 18. What now? There’s the question of transition in the school system, what to do about a job, will they have services, how will services be delivered, and then there’s the question of guardianship. And the school system may or may not discuss things with you now that the young person is at the age of 18. But they still need help making those decisions. They can’t make them on their own. What if something happens?
Do you go for guardianship of your child, sibling, cousin, or other family member? That’s a good question. As an SCE or Support Coordinator External, I help families find resources all the time. It can be confusing, scary, and without some direction, it can be downright difficult to figure things out completely on your own. Sometimes I’m asked for a professional opinion. Here is my standard pat answer.
You will have to attend a court proceeding to obtain guardianship of someone after they turn 18. People with disabilities age out of child-centered systems just like non-disabled people. And when they turn 18, they become their own guardian. So, in short, just because someone has a disability, they still become a legal adult like everyone else.
Does the person want a guardian? Meaning, will they want to contest the petition for guardianship? They may fight the process completely, which means, it will be contested, so be ready for that.
There is a process, and you must provide an attorney for your prospective “ward” or person you are trying to get guardianship of as well as court and filing costs. And yes, you do have to go to court. If there was not a court proceeding, you are not a guardian, regardless of the functioning of your loved one.
It’s really important to know what guardianship covers and what it doesn’t cover. Things it does cover would be medical decisions, financial decisions, programming or habilitative decisions, and education. And there are two different types of guardianship too. There is a plenary or full guardianship which treats the person much like a minor. There is a partial guardianship, which can be a mixture of those above areas. You want to go with the least restrictive if you can.
Also, right now, if there is a life changing event, or tragedy, the filing fees and court costs can be much lower.
There can be up to three guardians, with one guardian acting as a “team captain” or lead. It is nice to have a co-guardian, just in case of illness or a death. Having three, remember that all guardians must give consent for things, so if you have a sibling acting as a co-guardian that is out of state might not be a good idea. Also, a guardian who lives out of state is really difficult. With our DSPD services and having to conduct a Person Centered Service Plan or PCSP meeting without a guardian is almost an impossibility. We must have a guardian there to sign papers and give consent to things.
Please don’t use guardianship as a means to “control” your child or family member. People with disabilities have the same right to date, get married, get divorced, make friends, end friendships, and work and play just like we all do. However, we always have to be there to make sure the person doesn’t get taken advantage of, pick up the pieces when mistakes get made, or make a referral when needed.
One of the best resources I have found has been Guardianship Associates of Utah. They provide private guardianship services as well as providing training to families and professionals. GAU does trainings to help with obtaining guardianship. They are low cost and free to those who qualify. I know that when I have questions about guardianship, I call GAU.
I recommend the trainings they do, because they are experts in this type of service as well as having a lot of experience.
There are some real advantages to having a guardianship situation. If a person really makes decisions that are detrimental and harmful to them, a guardian can step in. Also, it cuts down on the impulsivity on decisions that person makes.
Ask questions! Asking questions is very important, but also be willing to go into this with an open mind. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Just remember, you are never alone in this process.