A person who’s diagnosed with autism should likely have a named guardian before turning 18. At 18, a person can sign binding contracts, make health care decisions and sign IEPs (Individualized Education Plan) without parental involvement.
Autism Parenting’s recent article entitled “A Brief Overview of Special Needs Guardianship” explains that guardianship is a legal process in which a responsible person is named as the final decision maker for another. When it’s the parent and their child with autism, the parent can become the guardian of the 18-year-old with autism in a specific legal process. Guardianship gives the parent the final say, on all decisions regarding the child.
It’s not uncommon for a parent to be hesitant about becoming the guardian, especially if the child is developing well and has several abilities. One question to ask in this situation concerns the intellectual or developmental age of my child. If the honest answer is below the age 18 (like 14 or 12 years old), then you’ll want to ask yourself if you’d allow your 14-year-old make all healthcare, education, housing and financial decisions and have those decisions be legally binding. Probably not. In that case, you should look into guardianship.
If your adult child continues to develop and at some point down the road can make decisions on her own, the guardian can petition the court to have relationship revoked.
Another important time period that guardianship needs to be considered is when the parents die. The appointed guardian then will be responsible for day-to-day care or decisions on that day to day care. The selection of a guardian for this situation is often a large roadblock to finishing up a family’s plan.
The reason is because parents must make this decision before completing their will. If parents have trouble with choosing a potential guardian, consider these criteria when considering each person: location, family circumstances, their personality qualities and demeanor, their age, their experience with special needs individuals, the fact that the person knows your family member, your parent or your loved one knows the individual, their financial position, marital status and work schedule.
By the following factors, parents can rank each possible future guardian and settle on the best possible choice. Although the guardian might never be as committed as a parent, if you use a more objective process (like the criteria above), parents will be better able to find a qualified future guardian.
If a guardianship is not needed, it is advisable for a young adult to have a durable power of attorney so that parents can still help their child. Visiting with an attorney who is knowledgeable and experienced about special needs planning and benefits planning is important to make sure you are protecting your loved ones.
Reference: Autism Parenting (undated) “A Brief Overview of Special Needs Guardianship”