What to Do When Your Disabled Child Turns 18: Conservatorship and Guardianship?
Report by Tom and Sherry Bushnell
For more information on this subject from Debbie Mills click here
Many of our children are reaching the age of accountability. What do parents do when their older children are adults in body but still a little child? Can children make decisions for themselves such as where to live, whom to live with, which doctor and medical procedure, how much to pay the housekeeper, etc.?
For parents of any older youth there is the special joy and pain of stretching and growing as their child becomes a man or woman. Watching them make good decisions and struggling with other choices, it certainly keeps a dad and mom in an attitude of prayer. It is also a joy and a poignant pain as parents of mentally disabled watch their children grow into adulthood. There are some similarities. Yet decisions must to be made with or for an adult disabled youth that may be hard.
A lot depends on the mental ability of the young adult to problem solves and bears the responsibility of their own actions. If a young disabled adult is functionally able and chooses to live on their own, with or without community or parental help, a guardianship or conservatorship (which are the same thing) is not necessary. They are their own conservator and perhaps though the ride may be bumpy, are better off making a life of their own. The danger, from a Christian perspective, is where there could be worldly influences such as a workshop environment or group home setting. If a disabled youth, with their own conservatorship, is convinced by someone to make a bad decision parents are powerless to intervene. Today there are parents who are facing the hardship of watching their offspring, adult in body but in mind a child, be taken advantage of or influenced down the path of Godlessness. Here are some situations:
A disabled lady (25), mentally about 6 years old, is wooed into a sexual relationship with a non-disabled man after entering a sheltered workshop. She becomes pregnant and is taken to get an abortion. This young lady had a Christian centered upbringing. Mom and dad sensed her need for making friends and thought a job would be a good idea. Complaints from the parents to the workshop supervisor only brought ridicule and they were told to be quiet. Their daughter was her own woman now.
A young man of 19 (mentally 5) enters a Goodwill Industry job prep situation. He makes friends with several buddies and looks for opportunities to be placed in a job or his own. He is granted a placement in a bar and grill as a dishwasher. Parents are told to be grateful for the placement and are not given a choice as to where their son might spend his days. After all, the company reasoned, he is his own man and if he want to work there he can. Parents were then powerless to help their son avoid poor choices.
These are bad case scenarios. Perhaps there are a lot of happy stories. But in this wicked world, from a Christian perspective, for those of us who believe eternal life is more important than a good time here and now, what are we to do? How can parents help their adult child grow up as much as they are able, have a happy life full of meaning and friendships, yet protect and guide them?
In the past, to protect investments in the family or from thieves taking advantage of a disabled personís wealth, parents (or children of disabled parents) would go before a judge, via an attorney, and gain conservatorship or guardianship of that personís wealth or inheritance. This was a measure of safety for the disabled person and was done for those families who had something to loose. Within the last 5 years, more and more families are looking at guardianship as a safety net for making decisions for their disabled child, not for the sake of money, but moral safety.
There are now lawyers that look for persons to take money from and situations to take advantage of. This is how they make a living. There are also persons who are more than willing (even look for disabled young women) to use for evil purposes, such as porn etc. In many cities, the community is not a safe place. Agendas abound and state programs flourish by getting large numbers of signed-up participants. Who cares if the promises made to the disabled and their families are really fulfilled? They are signed up!
Even hospitals are hesitant to treat disabled adults brought in by their parents who do not have guardianship of their child. In California a big hospital was sued for treating an adult disabled person whom later complained that they really did not want to be treated and their parents made them.
If you have a youth soon to be adult child that is happy to stay at home and you live in a trusted rural area with not much chance that those looking to take advantage of the disabled can come in contact with your child, perhaps guardianship is not a big concern. Care should be taken to really be familiar with who our mentally disabled children are spending time with and what their purpose might be.
If you do plan on having your son or daughter join in community activities, take part in job opportunities, and if you feel you son or daughter is not mentally able to handle decisions, it is probably wise to go to a lawyer and look into having papers drawn up, granting you as parents the right to make decisions for your child as an adult.
In Idaho, it works like this. Our child "hires" a lawyer, who in turn appoints a social worker, friend of the court or another lawyer, whose job it is to find out whether our adult child wants this or if it is in the best interest of our child. (Sort of like a minature homestudy). After this is established, the lawyer draws up the paper work and you go before a judge to be awarded guardianship and to sign papers.
The only problem is that depending on the state and the city, the price range for having papers drawn up for this can run into the thousands of dollars. In Idaho it is around
A notarized will including a Special Needs Trust (in case of death of both parents) can also further protect our disabled child from becoming a ward of the state or of someone who is wanting to take advantage of them. This Special Needs Trust protects the benefits that our child may have and would not want to loose if we die and cannot advocate for our child.
Just like protecting a valuable estate, we need to be wise and protect our disabled children from those who would not care about the spiritual dimension of our childrenís lives. We need to pray that the Lord would guide us and our child into the right path for His glory. He is just as concerned about the future for our special needs children as He is for our non-disabled children. The amount of time we spend teaching and training them to love can be wasted by the wrong environment and the wrong set of friends. Going through the trouble to get a guardianship/conservatorship may seem like a lot of trouble. And for the majority of us who don't stand to loose much financially, it might have been over doing it 5 or 10 years ago. The world is not the same place it was back then. New precautions need to be taken. It seems too awful to be true that the extremely wicked could pervade even into the realm of special needs programs. We do want our special needs youth to become the adults God wants them to be. We do want them to have happy fulfilled lives. However, Satan is always looking for a cheap way to tear down Christians. Donít be lured and then hooked into a no win situation where your child lead down a bad pathway.
For more information try contacting your family attorney.