March 2, 2020
If you are a parent whose child has special needs, your job as a parent gets more complicated the day they turn 18. On that day they magically become an adult in the eyes of the law.
When a person turns 18, they become an adult in the eyes of the law and are expected to make decisions about their own medical treatment, finances and life in general. In order to make these decisions binding in the legal sense, the person in question has to be deemed competent and able to understand the consequences of the decisions they make.
If your child has disabilities and cannot make these decisions by themselves due to a lack of cognitive capabilities, you will need to be involved in the child’s decision-making process. This can include things like financial decisions and medical affairs. But what steps are needed to allow you to legally do this?
One of the most important things that enables you to continue to look after your child is timing—start the process early.
For the best outcome, set everything up before your child turns 18. This will help to avoid gaps in your child’s benefits once they hit the age of 18.
When thinking about the best way to advocate for your child, you should take into consideration both the pros and cons of:
Each has its own benefits and drawbacks and you should make sure to know in advance what plan is best for your child.
In considering the legal alternative you should take into account how self-sufficient your child is, as well as the following:
For high functioning adult children, one route you may be able to take is for your child to establish powers of attorney. This is a legal document in which a person (the principal/your child) appoints an individual (the agent/you the parent) to make their decisions for them and take action on their behalf.
Powers of attorney fall into two categories:
Whether power of attorney is a viable option depends on your child’s level of mental capacity.
When you are evaluating whether power of attorney is most appropriate for your child, you should consider your child’s mental capacity for managing his or her affairs going forward. In addition, you should evaluate your child’s susceptibility to undue influence. If your child has a difficult time knowing whether someone is taking advantage of them, the power of attorney may not be the best choice If your adult child has the ability to execute powers of attorney, then this will be a great step forward in the right direction. However, If your child has a difficult time knowing whether someone is taking advantage of them, the power of attorney may not be the best choice.
If power of attorney is not a viable option, then to continue to be your child’s advocate after they turn 18, it may be necessary to establish a conservatorship.
Conservatorship is the process in which a conservator is appointed to make medical, personal and/or financial decisions on an adult child’s behalf. This includes any decisions regarding living situations and any necessary medical treatment.
When your child is unable to make cognitive decisions by themselves and is unable to make decisions regarding their financial or medical care, then conservatorship is an appropriate choice. It will allow you, the parent, to continue helping your child directly and stay involved in their daily routine.
Many attorneys are quick to advise you to go with the conservatorship approach but this should not always be the case. There are other options you can take and at Chubb Law Firm, we encourage you to reach out and review all of your options before making a decision.
Now that you have an idea of how you can go about advocating for your child once they’re over the age of 18, here are seven rules you should keep in mind when you continue to look after them throughout the years.
Agencies are programmed to say no. Their default is no - so you need to explain to them why they should say yes and help you out when you need it. It's a battle and you should expect to appeal any decision that’s made and fight until you get what your child is entitled to.
Don’t go into any government agency expecting to talk to the same person twice - because it simply won’t happen. You’ll be directed to a new person, who won’t know anything about you or your child. Which brings us to the second rule...
Be prepared to start your story from scratch every time you meet or talk to somebody new. Even if they’re there to help you and your child, they won’t know anything about you. You’ll end up meeting many new faces along your journey through government agencies and you’ll need to explain everything to them every. single. time.
If you’re on a call or in a meeting with a caseworker, a manager or anybody important to your child’s future wellbeing, be sure to take notes during every conversation. You should always write down:
It will help future meetings go a lot more smoothly if you make sure that any information you get can be traced back to its source.
Most state agencies have a federal agency component and most federal agencies have a state agency component. It’s important to remember this because even if you’ve resolved an issue on a federal level doesn’t mean that your issue will be resolved on a state level as well. Be sure to tick all your boxes and cover any loopholes to avoid frustration down the line.
Every agency will be different, meaning varying criteria for granting benefits. Don’t presume that because one agency ruled in your favor, the next one will as well. It’s a constant battle - but even if they say no, you have to keep fighting to get the benefits you and your child deserve. (See Rule #1)
When you call an agency or a caseworker, it’s a good idea to use the restroom before you begin and cancel any other upcoming plans you may have. You’re going to be on the phone for a long time and most of it will be on hold. So make sure you’re fully prepared for a long wait time.
At The Chubb Law Firm, our approach to special needs planning is grounded persistence. Although this process will be difficult, we are here to help you make the best decisions for you and your child.
If you need help, call The Chubb Law Firm today at (916) 241-9661 to review your goals and discuss your options.