Even with an attorney by her side, Maria Perkins was gripped by fear as she stood before the judge. Although she had made every decision for her son Mark Morrison since he was born with Downs Syndrome, suddenly she had to petition a Seminole County judge for guardianship of her developmentally disabled son. That’s because the day he turned 18 he was considered an adult according to Florida law. Legally, all rights Perkins had to make choices for her son’s welfare — like making medical decisions on his behalf — were null and void unless she became his court-approved guardian.
Maria Perkins shares a quiet moment with her son Mark Morrison.
Parents no longer have the legal authority to make decisions for their children after they turn 18 years of age. Guardian Advocacy is a process for family members, caregivers, or friends of individuals with a developmental disability to obtain the legal authority to act on their behalf if the person lacks the decision-making ability to do some, but not all, of the decision-making tasks necessary to care for his or her person or property. This is accomplished without having to declare the person with a developmental disability incapacitated which statutorily requires an attorney. Under Florida law, a person with a developmental disability must have an Intellectual Disability (IQ less than 70), Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Spina Bifida, Downs Syndrome, Phelan-McDermid syndrome, or Prader-Willi syndrome that manifested before the age of 18; and that constitutes a substantial handicap that can reasonably be expected to continue indefinitely.
A Guardian Advocate for a person with a developmental disability shall have the same powers, duties, and responsibilities required of a guardian under Florida Statute Chapter 744 and those defined by the judge. 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.
FJTC has recently built a new tool for Guardian Advocacy called Turning18. The tool is an educational and forms assistance website to guide the parents of adults with learning disabilities through the available options when their child turns 18 years of age.
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. The website educates parents on how to determine the level of support their adult child needs. Once visitors are educated on their options, the website helps them fill out automated self-serve documents if they choose the Guardian Advocate option. If the visitor chooses the Estate Planning or full Guardianship options, the website provides options to contact an attorney.
FJTC partnered with Michelle Kenney from GAPS Legal PLLC to develop this project.