(Above: JALA attorneys use Turning18.org to help explain guardianship options to families in need.)

Parents of developmentally disabled children are often surprised to discover that they no longer have the legal authority to make decisions for their children after they turn 18 years of age. And depending upon the extent of the disability, this change in legal status could threaten the child’s well-being.

Historically, the most common solution was complete guardianship, a legal process where the newly-turned adult is declared to be incapacitated and the authority to make decisions is awarded to the parent or legal guardian instead. But its not the only solution and as attorney and advocate, Michelle Kenney, points out, it’s not always the best solution either.

“…I wanted to make sure families clearly understood that there is more than one option,” Kenney said. “I wanted them to make an educated decision on the best option for their child, for their circumstances, not a one-size-fits-all.”

Kenney partnered with FJTC to create a new online tool – Turning18.org – that walks parents and caregivers through all the available options: guardianship, guardian advocacy and estate planning.

You Have Options

Guardian Advocacy is a process that allows family members, caregivers, or friends of individuals with a developmental disability to participate in the decision-making process to the extent that assistance is needed, without requiring the disabled person declared as incapacitated. This allows the caregiver to step in when needed, while still protecting the civil rights of their loved one, something that is extremely important to the emotional well-being of disabled individuals. A Guardian Advocate can receive authority to make decisions for the person, the person’s property or both and they have the same authority, duties and responsibilities as that of a full guardian, limited only by the court order. These powers and duties include but are not limited to: filing an initial plan and annual reports; making provisions for medical, mental health, dental and personal care of the person with a developmental disability; making residential decisions on behalf of the person with a developmental disability; advocating on behalf of the person with a developmental disability in institutional and other settings; and making financial decisions on behalf of the person with a developmental disability.

In addition, while this type of legal authority must be granted by a court, an attorney is not always needed, making it a more affordable option.

In addition to the guardianship options, there are several estate planning documents that provide what’s known as a “supported decision making” agreement. In this scenario, the disabled individual takes an active role in the decision-making process, chooses where help is needed and executes legal documents, such as a Living Will, Healthcare Proxy or Durable Power of Attorney, to grant legal authority for specific concerns and situations to someone of their choosing.

How Turning18.org Can Help

Many adults with learning disabilities can live fully independent lives.  However, many others require some help with decision making from a guardian or guardian advocate.Turning18 is an online tool that provides education and forms assistance to parents of adults with learning disabilities. The website was designed to guide parents through the available options when their child turns 18 years of age and help them choose the path that works best for their family.

The website was officially launched on December 14th at a live training event hosted by Northern Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law. If you’d like to help us promote Turning18 or, if you’d like to partner with us to host a training event, you can find more information on the T18 website. We also have marketing materials available for download if you’d like to offer them to your clients.