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How To Obtain Guardianship For Your Special Needs Child

Guardianship Attorney GeorgiaIn many states, including Georgia, as soon as your special needs child turns 18, he or she becomes a legal adult and is assumed to be able to make decisions on their own behalf unless a court determines otherwise.

However, if you determine that retaining guardianship over your child once he or she turns 18 is in your child’s best interest, here’s how you do it. (See related post: Is Guardianship The Right Choice When Your Special Needs Child Turns 18?)

Start Planning BEFORE Your Child Turns 18

Requesting guardianship can be a lengthy and involved legal process. In order to retain guardianship of your child, you need to have the court appoint you as your child’s guardian.

To make sure there is not a gap in your child’s guardianship when he or she turns 18, it’s important to prepare your petition to the court well in advance of your child’s 18th birthday. If there is a gap in guardianship (i.e. your child turns 18 before you have guardianship) and a decision needs to be made about your child’s health or legal rights, it could cause some serious problems.

Step-By-Step Process

  • Every state’s guardianship laws differ slightly and the process can be daunting. This is where hiring an attorney to help guide you through the process is beneficial.
  • There are several forms you will need to complete, including forms that will need to be completed by a qualified physician to evaluate your child.
  • Once you submit the forms, your child will need to appear in court with you. As much as possible, you will want to help your child understand the process and what to expect in advance of actually appearing in court.
  • The court will appoint a representative for your child to help determine the merits of your claim that your child is not competent to act on his or her own behalf and that guardianship is in fact the right choice. The representative will most likely want to meet and visit with your child. In addition, in some circumstances, the representative may visit your child at home.
  • Finally, you will need to attend a hearing with your child. At this point, the judge will review and determine if your child is incapacitated and, if so, to what extent he or she requires assistance. Further, the judge will then decide if the person petitioning for guardianship will be appointed as guardian.

Some Things To Consider 

  • You and your spouse or significant other can petition the court to share guardianship. You will become co-guardians.
  • If your child’s need are complex, you can request that a non-profit agency or public or private corporation serve as your child’s guardian.
  • Guardianship may not be the right solution for your child. There are alternatives such as conservator or limited guardianship that give your child more independence.

Once You Are Awarded Guardianship

The paperwork doesn’t stop once you’re awarded guardianship. Every year you will need to file detailed reports about your child’s finances and overall well being. In some states, guardians must also provide proof that they’ve made adequate residential arrangements as well as provided appropriate healthcare services.

If the guardian cannot prove that they have adequately provided for their adult ward, then the court can remove the adult ward and name a different guardian.

Getting Started

As a parent of a special needs child and an attorney with extensive experience with legal issues relating to special needs children, I can help you navigate the complex guardianship process. or 678.325.3872.

What To Do When Your Special Needs Child Completes High School

ClassroomPictPart I: The Path To Employment

As our children begin to enter into early adolescence, many of us begin to realize that many – if not all – of the services and programs that our child relies on for care will soon disappear and be replaced by radically different benefits.

Most of these new benefits abruptly come into play once our children leave the public education system. This may happen at any time between the ages of 18 and 23, depending on the state you live in and your child’s particular needs.

One of the most important aspects of this transition is securing employment services for our children. According to the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability, one-quarter of all adults with disabilities work at either a full- or part-time job.

Some of the remaining three-quarters are unable to work at all due to their disability; but a large number of disabled adults who aren’t employed don’t have a job because they lack the skills necessary for gainful employment. Several federal laws address this situation with the goal of providing vocational education to a wider segment of the population with disabilities.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that special education plans begin transition planning when a child turns 14. At this point, a written transition plan must be incorporated into a child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), outlining the steps a school will take to help a child with special needs acquire skills necessary for an eventual move into the workforce.

By the time the child turns 16, the special education team must steer the child towards development programs keyed towards the child’s individual vocational preferences. The law also mandates periodic measurement of the child’s progress to ensure that he receives attention from the proper vocational advocates.

Once your child reaches 18 and receives either Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments, the Social Security Administration (SSA) offers several programs to encourage your child to work. The best-known program, Ticket to Work, is a somewhat complicated program designed to offer beneficiaries a way to begin a career without having to worry about losing their SSI or SSDI benefits.

SSI beneficiaries, on the other hand, must conform to very strict income and asset limits. Often, beneficiaries who could hold a job do not pursue one because they are worried that they will lose their SSI benefits once they earn too much. While this is certainly a concern, the benefits of employment may outweigh the loss of SSI. Furthermore, the government provides specific incentives for SSI beneficiaries to work. For instance, if a person with disabilities is under 22 and at school or in a vocational training program, $1,780 of his monthly income does not count against his SSI benefit, up to a yearly limit of $7,180.

The Social Security Administration also offers the PASS (Plan for Achieving Self Support) program for SSI beneficiaries who would like to work. Under this program, a beneficiary presents the SSA with a detailed plan for obtaining a specific type of employment. Once the SSA approves the plan, a beneficiary sets aside income and assets towards achieving her goal without having those funds count against her benefit. Funds can be used for things like childcare, transportation, books and supplies, and additional education and training.

Many programs are available for people with special needs to seek employment if they would like to do so. Unfortunately, the rules for most of these programs are complicated and the SSA is often not very good at explaining them.

Beginning to plan well before your child completes high school – with the assistance of local vocational agencies and qualified special needs planners – is your best chance for successfully navigating the maze of educational opportunities for your child.