My Disabled Child is Now 18 – Does Anything Change? Part 2
A few weeks ago I wrote about a scenario we are seeing with increasing frequency, the child with special needs who reaches adulthood and how that changes the ability of a parent to protect and/or act for that child. There probably won’t be any noticeable change in the family’s life until a crisis occurs and the parents need to step in and make decisions for the child, decisions all parents of minor children routinely make every day. They are shocked, however, the first time they learn that they no longer legally have the right to do so, and aren’t even entitled to information about their child without the child’s consent.
We discussed guardianship as a possible solution. But if the child resists the process or the doctors and/or the court don’t agree that the child fits the test of incapacity then what do you do? The legal solutions are less than perfect but there are steps parents can and should take.
Every person, with or without special needs, ought to have a power of attorney and a health care directive, designating someone to act on their behalf should the need arise. On the health care side, that means someone who can speak with the doctors and make medical decisions should that become necessary. The power of attorney designates an agent to make every day financial decisions such as moving money between bank accounts, writing and depositing checks, applying for government benefits, communicating with creditors etc.
Parents of a child turning age 18 ought to encourage and arrange for that child to execute these documents as a significant step towards being a responsible adult. It can be a positive experience for a child who feels the pull of independence. Part of that independence is putting a support system in place of family and friends who they can rely on for help should the need arise. The parents should emphasize that this necessity is not unique to children with special needs. Parents should explain to Jimmy that Mom and Dad have a similar plan in place. It is something all responsible adults have.
And as I have discussed in previous blog posts, the creation of a special needs trust is so important because if the parent dies without protecting the child’s inheritance then there is a high degree of probability that those funds will be mismanaged by the child, or by those preying upon him/her, leaving the burden upon other family members to provide support. Additionally, a failure to protect the assets properly may disqualify the child for valuable government benefits.
By addressing these issues before a crisis occurs, in a positive manner, very often the child won’t see it as a limit on his/her eagerly anticipated independence but rather a natural step in the process.