When My Special Needs Child Turns 18
As a Texas parent, you know the responsibilities you have for your child. You provide food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education and nurturing.
As a Texas parent, you also have rights under the law to have the ability to make decisions for your child, including medical, educational and legal decisions. When your child turns 18, you no longer have these rights, even if your child is disabled and unable to make decisions.
Suddenly you are not informed of, or invited to, your child’s IEP (Individual Education Plan) meeting. The teacher, counselor or school administrator cannot give you information about your child’s progress. The family doctor will no longer allow you to attend examinations. The therapist does not talk to you or give you feedback anymore. You assumed that because your child has special needs, you will always be a parent with the responsibilities and rights you have shouldered and accepted.
When a special needs child turns 18, no matter their medical condition, all their legal rights are automatically transferred to them. Now the child, not the parent, is allowed to make decisions. What does this mean in practical terms?
- As a legal adult, your special needs child can make financial decisions, including applying for a credit card or withdrawing funds from an account, without parental authorization.
- As a legal adult, your child can remove you as the representative payee or as the person designated to receive information regarding benefits and services.
- As a legal adult, your special needs child can make medical decisions, including the refusal of treatment of therapy, without parental authorization.
- As a legal adult, your special needs child can choose their residence. They can leave your home or a safe facility without parental authorization.
- As a legal adult, your special needs child has the right to vote in a public election and to apply for a license to operate a motor vehicle without parental authorization.
- As an adult, your special needs child can purchase a firearm without parental authorization.
Thankfully, Texas law has a provision to help you when your special needs child turns 18: Guardianship. Guardianship is a legal process that provides the ability for a parent or other competent person to assume the responsibility for the legal rights of a person who is incapacitated.
In a guardianship proceeding, you, as a parent, can petition the court to allow you to continue to exercise your parental responsibilities, rights and duties when your special needs child turns 18. The process itself is a straightforward one, but requires the assistance of a qualified and experienced guardianship attorney. In order to be prepared and have no gap in services or treatment, you should plan to begin the process between three and six months ahead of your child’s 18th birthday.
As a past president of Guardianship Services, Inc., in Fort Worth, Texas, Bob Leonard is extremely knowledgeable about the guardianship process. Through his law practice, he regularly provides guardianship representation to many parents for a special needs child turning 18. In addition, the Tarrant County courts and Parker County courts frequently appoint Bob to provide representation to the proposed ward.
Be Prepared. Act Now. Experienced and Knowledgeable Guardianship Attorney.