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Guardianship: Is It The Right Choice When Your Special Needs Child Turns 18?

Guardianship Special Needs

In most states, a parent is deemed to be the legal guardian of his or her child until their child turns 18. Up until that point, parents make all the medical, financial, educational and day-to-day decisions for their children.

However, once your child turns 18, he or she is legally considered an adult and your authority to make decisions on your child’s behalf stops. This usually isn’t an issue, unless you have a special needs child that may not be ready or able to make good decisions about their care.

Following is a discussion of some options of what you can do when your special needs child turns 18.


With guardianship of your child, you have the legal authority to make decisions about your child’s healthcare, housing, food, clothing, and other subjects that affect your child such as decisions about a their income, property, public benefits and other financial matters.

Guardianship is not automatic. And when your child turns 18, parents (or an adult willing to oversee your child’s care) must petition the court for guardianship.

However, not every child who has disabilities needs to have a guardian. With appointed guardians, your child loses a great deal of independence. Your child will no longer be able to make decisions about their personal life, health care, financial or legal matters.

Alternatives To Guardianship

Most state laws require that guardianship only be imposed only when less restrictive alternatives would not best benefit and protect the child.

Following are a few examples of less restrictive alternatives to guardianship.


If your child has the capacity to make some decisions, an option to consider is Conservatorship. The individual appointed to serve as Conservator manages your child’s property and financial affairs. Most other decisions are left up to the child.

Power of Attorney

Power of attorney is given to a responsible adult (ex. a parent) that acts on your child’s behalf on financial, legal or business matters but the child still retains the right to act on his or her own behalf.

Representative or Protective Payee

If your child receives Social Security, benefits from the Veteran’s Administration, Railroad Retirement, welfare or other state or federal benefits, the Court can appoint someone to help manage their payments from these entities. All other decisions are left up to your child.

Factors To Consider When Making This Decision

It’s important to take into consideration several factors when deciding whether your child needs a guardian or some other form of support.

  • Your child’s ability to make sound decisions, including understanding the effect and consequences of his her decisions and actions
  • Your ongoing need to be involved in your child’s medical care
  • Your need for continued oversight over your child’s financial affairs
  • Your child’s needs and wants
  • Your child’s ability to communicate his or her needs
  • Your child’s level of independence with respect to self-care (ex. feeding, dressing, bathing, etc.)
  • Whether your child will require outside support such as assisted living or a home health assistant

When To Make A Decision

The conversations and decisions about how your 18-year-old child should be cared for need to happen BEFORE he/she turns 18. These conversations are not easy. In fact, they’re very difficult and there are many variables to consider. As a result, it’s important to start thinking about your child, his or her needs and long-term well-being now.

We Can Help

Although we cannot make the decision for you about what’s the right answer for you and your family, we can guide you through the decision-making process and help you with the legal aspects. I can be reached at or 678.325.3872 for a free initial consultation.

If Your Child Has Autism, Make Sure These 4 Things Are In Your Will

Autsim Will & Special Needs Trust

Although everyone should have a will, as parents of special needs children, we need wills to ensure that our kids are well cared for and have a good quality of life after we pass.

My son has a dual diagnosis of Autism and Williams Syndrome. Here are four things I recommend all parents of children with Autism – or any special needs – include in their wills or estate plans.

1) A Special Needs Trust – A will is a basic legal document that details your last wishes and is often used to distribute your property or assets.

However, a basic will does not include provisions that are needed to protect and provide for your special needs child. This is where a Special Needs Trust comes into play. A Special Needs Trust can be a part of your will or it can be a stand-alone document. It allows you to designate and qualify your assets in a way that doesn’t penalize your child when it comes to his or her public benefits.

Eligibility for many government benefits is determined based on the resources your child or adult ward holds in his or her name. If your special needs child has too many resources, even by just one dollar, he or she may not qualify for, or may even lose, benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid. Even if your child does not currently receive government assistance, he or she may need it in the future.

A special needs trust is a way to protect your loved one’s current resources and future benefits. Through a special needs trust you can leave assets to your child or ward without negatively impacting his or her government benefits.

2) Designated Guardian – We often assume that a member of our family – maybe a sister or our own mother – will automatically be given custody of our children if something happens to us. However, this is not true unless you have a will, trust or estate plan in place that specifically names them as guardians.

Without a legal plan in place, anyone can request custody and a judge will decide with whom your child/children will live with. Choosing a guardian is perhaps one of the most difficult decisions to make. It’s important to choose someone you trust and who will respect your wishes for your child(ren).

Things to consider when selecting any child’s guardian are the guardian’s age, his or her family values, parenting style, character, willingness to serve as guardian and whether he or she already has an established relationship with your child.

With a special needs child there are even more considerations. Think about the traits that you, as a special needs parent, need to raise your child and does the guardian have these traits?  My top three traits for special needs guardians are 1) Energy; 2) Patience; and 3) The ability to advocate for my child. (See Related Post: 10 Tips On Choosing The Right Guardian)

3) Guardianship Letter & Instructions –  Once you’ve selected a guardian, you need to put them in a position to succeed if they are forced to step into your shoes. You should write instructions to the guardian about things they will need to know on how to parent your child.

Include things like your child’s routines, medicines, information about his or her medical providers, how to deal with sensory meltdowns, what is the best way to get them to eat or sleep. Simple things like their favorite stuffed animal that they need to go to sleep with at night or where they like to hide their favorite sippy cup or the name of their favorite YouTube videos are small details – but they are of big importance to our children.

We’ve had years to learn these things about our kids. Help your child’s guardian avoid having to learn from experience by documenting what you already know!  (See Related Post: How To Create A Successful Care Plan For Your Child’s Guardians)

By painstakingly detailing your routines and including details about what makes your child comfortable or happy in your care plan, you are setting your guardians up for success and for a smooth transition in case something were to suddenly happen to you and your spouse.

4) Conservator or Trustee – A conservator or trustee is someone to handle all financial decisions related to your child. A conservator helps ensure that money left to your special needs child is used for your child in ways that best benefit  your child.

Often times families ask me if their child’s designated guardian should also be the conservator or trustee. It depends. Your guardian can serve as both, but sometimes families prefer set up some up checks and balances by selecting different guardians and conservators. It’s important to select someone you trust and who will make smart financial decisions on your child’s behalf.  The guardian and the conservator work together in the best interest of your child.

Getting Started

As a parent of a special needs child and an estate planning attorney, I understand the challenges of adding one more thing to your plate. However, putting into place a will to protect your child with special needs is something we all need to do sooner rather than later – just in case.

We’ll walk you through the will planning process step-by-step. Initial consults are free.  We want to help you create a legal plan that best protects your child with special needs as well as your final wishes for your entire family. I can be reached at or 678.325.3872.


Even If Your Child Doesn’t Receive SSI Or Medicaid, You May Still Need To Set Up A Special Needs Trust

special needs trustSocial Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal program that typically provides cash stipends to people who have paid into the Social Security system and who can’t work due to disability.  (In some cases, it is possible to receive SSDI even if you haven’t worked.) In most cases, when someone has been eligible for SSDI benefits for two years, the individual also receives Medicare, even if he or she is under age 65.

From a special needs planning perspective, SSDI benefits are fairly easy to deal with because the program does not have an asset limit or a restriction on unearned income, like interest or dividends.  This means that a millionaire who meets the program’s requirements can receive SSDI benefits alongside a completely impoverished person. It also means that from a purely financial perspective, a person with resources doesn’t need to shelter her assets in a special needs trust in order to qualify for SSDI benefits as she would have to do if she were receiving means-tested government benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicaid.

But this does not mean that SSDI beneficiaries should not have special needs trusts. In fact, there are many benefits to having a special needs trust that go far beyond the ability to maintain eligibility for SSI or Medicaid. For instance, a person with a mental illness may be unable to manage money. A special needs trust would allow that person’s funds to be invested and spent appropriately by a qualified trustee.  In another case, a person with special needs may be able to handle her personal finances but she might live in an environment where she is susceptible to mistreatment by others. In this situation, a special needs trust would provide an appropriate buffer between the beneficiary and the people who would otherwise take advantage of her.

When it comes to special needs planning, you never want to take anything for granted.  Just because an SSDI beneficiary might not need Medicaid and SSI now, it doesn’t mean she won’t qualify for, or require, services from those programs in the future. For instance, an SSDI beneficiary may rely on private health insurance and Medicare, but if she loses her insurance and Medicare doesn’t cover certain medications, it might be incredibly important for that beneficiary to receive Medicaid, which could make a special needs trust essential.

Finally, there is one particular type of special needs trust, called a first-party special needs trust, that is specifically designed to hold the beneficiary’s own assets. In most of the examples above, this is the type of special needs trust that would be required. Unfortunately, only a parent, grandparent, guardian or court can establish a first-party special needs trust for the beneficiary, even if she is completely competent to create a trust on her own. Therefore, if the parent or grandparent of a person who receives SSDI has the capability, it is probably a good idea for him to create the trust for his child or grandchild, on the off-chance that it will have to be used later, instead of relying on an expensive and time-consuming court process.

There are lots of reasons to have a special needs trust beyond merely qualifying for government benefits.  If you or a loved one receives SSDI and doesn’t have a special needs trust, our attorneys can help you determine the best estate planning option to meet your needs. Contact DJ Jeyaram at or 678.325.3872.

Credit Cards and Special Needs Trusts: How They Can Work Together

Credit Card Care A special needs trust is designed to supplement the income of an individual with special needs so that she can maintain access to government benefits without necessarily sacrificing her standard of living.

But government benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid prohibit the trustee of a special needs trust from simply giving a beneficiary cash to pay for goods and services herself. Instead, a trustee must pay vendors directly.

Credit cards offer a way for the trustee of a special needs trust to avoid giving a beneficiary cash while at the same time not serving as the beneficiary’s designated shopper.

Because a credit card is technically a loan from the credit card company to the cardholder, the goods or services purchased by a trust beneficiary using a card are not income and do not affect his access to government benefits. If the special needs trust then pays off the balance of a beneficiary’s credit card bill, the payment is likewise not considered income.

Because of this special treatment, an SSI or Medicaid beneficiary who is capable of managing her own affairs can use a credit card to make small purchases, and a trustee of a special needs trust need not micromanage every transaction.

Several very important rules apply to the use of credit cards, however.

  • First, a trustee cannot pay for any charges on the credit card that are for food or shelter.
  • Second, a trustee of a first-party special needs trust that was established with the beneficiary’s own money cannot pay for any credit card charges that a beneficiary may have incurred paying for goods or services that were used by other people because first-party trusts can only be used for the sole benefit of the person with special needs.
  • Third, a trustee should never give a credit card to a beneficiary who is incapable of managing her own financial affairs, or who is involved with people who will take advantage of her.
  • Finally, the credit card rules apply only to credit cards; debit cards are considered cash and should never be used.

Since the rules governing credit cards are complicated, it is imperative that you discuss the ongoing use of credit cards with a special needs planner prior to turning a card over to a beneficiary or paying a beneficiary’s bill.

Please contact DJ Jeyaram at or 678.325.3872 for assistance.


Consider Creating A “Care Committee” For Your Special Needs Child

Special Needs TrustWhen setting up a special needs trust, we ask parents to designate someone to serve as their child’s trustee. The trustee’s job is to ensure the child receives the best possible care – without necessarily being the primary care giver.

The trustee oversees things like the child’s finances, overall health, housing, benefits and education. However, finding someone who is extremely knowledgeable in all of these areas and knows all of the members of your family and how they interact with one another – can be a challenge. As a result, we often recommend creating a Care Committee.

However, before we get to care committees, let’s do a quick refresher on special needs trusts. Special needs trusts are legal instruments specifically designed to hold property for a person with disabilities.

Every special needs trust has a trustee – the person responsible for managing the trust’s assets for the benefit of the person with the disability. A special needs trust gives the trustee very broad authority to use the trust funds in whatever way she thinks will best help the trust beneficiary given the beneficiary’s current and future needs and other resources.

Because the trustee of a special needs trust has these discretionary powers and cannot typically be forced to make distributions to the beneficiary, the funds in the trust do not harm the beneficiary’s ability to qualify for government benefits like Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

This brings us back to Care Committees. Since the trustee of the special needs trust cannot always be expected to know everything about the beneficiary’s care and needs, parents may decide to name several knowledgeable people to serve as a formal advisory committee.

The Committee can include any number of people, but it is typically composed of a small group that parents select because they understand the beneficiary’s needs. Committees are often made up of caregivers, doctors, social workers, family members, lawyers and other advocates. The Committee members are supposed to advise the trustee about the best way to utilize the trust assets, even though the trustee usually retains the ultimate authority over the disposition of the trust.

However, in some cases the trust will mandate that the trustee must follow the committee’s advice unless it is clearly against the beneficiary’s best interests.

The Care Committee also facilitates a conversation between the trustee and the beneficiary. Since this relationship can sometimes be difficult, especially if the trust beneficiary is fully competent and resents the trustee’s control over the assets, the Care Committee can advocate for the beneficiary’s needs without antagonizing the trustee.

The Committee can also take some of the pressure off of the trustee, because she will have help making difficult decisions that a lone trustee may agonize over.

Not all parents feel the need to create a Care Committee for a special needs trust, but if you are interested in establishing one, we can help you design the right committee for your family. Contact DJ Jeyaram at or 678-325.3872.

Congratulations To Jeyaram & Associates For Being Featured In The Business News Daily

Reprinted with permission from the Business News Daily
Special Needs Trusts


Owner DJ Jeyaram Esq. shared the story behind Jeyaram & Associates, a family-focused law firm that specializes in special needs trusts, wills, estate planning and healthcare legal services.

My son Kai, pictured in this photo, was born with a rare genetic condition called Williams Syndrome. He brings us an amazing amount of joy despite all of his challenges.

Soon after my son was born, we realized that we needed a plan to protect him in case anything happened to me or my wife, so we began offering special needs trusts, which help protect children’s current and future government benefits.

I started my business in 2007 after working at a large law firm. I realized that most special needs families could not afford my big firm rates and I was forced to refer these families to small firm attorneys that did not necessarily have the proper training to set up a special needs estate plan. Three months later, I hung out my shingle and have successfully been in business for more than 8 years. It’s been one of the best decisions I ever made.

One of the biggest challenges we face is limiting the number of pro bono cases we take every year. Because we have a special needs child and are ingrained in the special needs community, we meet a lot of families that need legal help but don’t have the necessary resources. We want to help everyone because we always think ‘That could be us.’

RSVP For Free Legal Workshop: Katie Beckett/Deeming Waiver Appeal & Special Needs Trusts

IEP Education LawTwo Things Every Special Needs Parent Should Know

1. How to Win A Katie Beckett Appeal: A presentation on how to appeal a Katie Beckett denial. Almost all applications are initially denied. Learn how to prepare and what to expect – and when to engage a lawyer.

2. Protecting Benefits With Special Needs Trusts: Learn the basics on what a special needs trust is and how it works. We’ll also talk about the ABLE Act and how it works with a special needs trust.

  • When Friday, September 11 at 10:00 am to 11:30 am
  • Where: FOCUS main office | 3825 Presidential Parkway, Suite 103 – Atlanta, Georgia 30340
  • Who : DJ Jeyaram, Esq. – attorney and special needs parent

Please RSVP to with your name and the word “Trust” in the subject line by September 1st.


FOCUS offers comfort, hope, and fun to families with children who are medically fragile or have significant developmental or physical disabilities through a variety of programs.