When your child reaches the age of majority (18 years, in most states), you are no longer his or her legal guardian. This is true even if your child lives at home and is unable to make informed decisions. Conservatorship is a legal arrangement in which you or a trusted adult you select is given the right to make decisions for your child. Conservatorship is a court-appointed and -managed role. In legal terms, your child would be considered a “ward” of the guardian.
Types of Conservatorship
A conservatorship may be “of the person” or “of the estate.”
A conservatorship of the person enables the guardian to make all necessary decisions in areas such as shelter, clothing, medical care, food, contracts the ward may wish to make, and so on.
A conservatorship of the estate enables the guardian to manage your child’s financial affairs and all the records associated with them, such as statements and reports. You may find using a special needs trust preferable to accomplishing this function.
Alternatives to Conservatorship
Your child may have some abilities in making decisions but need guidance at times. Because it adds to your child’s confidence, self-esteem, and life skills, you may want to continue letting your child make certain decisions but provide guidance when needed.
Listed below are alternatives to conservatorships, briefly described, that you might find more appropriate. (see Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance. “Guardianship.” Retrieved fromhttp://www.tsalliance.org/pages.aspx?content=62 on September 10, 2010. Consult with an attorney to help you make the best decisions about a guardianship or one of the alternatives listed below.
A joint bank account held by you and your child to prevent your child from bouncing checks.
A Representative Payee who would receive certain checks, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), spend the money on behalf of your child, and manage related financial records. This might be helpful in ensuring that certain types of checks, such as SSI, are properly spent on food, shelter, and clothing. Your child can still make personal choices on how the money gets spent. You can appoint yourself as a representative payee through your financial institution.
A Durable Power of Attorney who would make financial or legal decisions on behalf of your child should he or she become unable to do so.
A Health Care Proxy that designates someone of your choice to make medical decisions for you should you be unable to; also known as “health care surrogate” or “durable medical power of attorney.”
An Appointment of Advocate and Authorization, made by the individual with a disability him- or herself, who advocates for your child while working with administrative agencies your child uses, such as Medicaid and the local Department of Human Services.
Strategies for Selecting a Guardian
You might find it awkward to engage someone in a conversation about caring for your child if and when you become unable to. The reasons might seem obvious to you, but we’ll articulate them as a way to help you gain clarity through any emotions you might have about selecting a guardian for your child.
First, you are well-aware of what goes in to caring for your child on all emotional and logistical fronts. Tending to that level of care is a lot to ask or expect of anyone. Yet by being persistent in developing your child’s self-advocacy skills, a potential guardian may come to notice and appreciate them. As a result, he or she may develop an interest in caring for your child.
Second, you might be uneasy about the notion of letting someone try to achieve your level of care. Welcoming people you know and trust into the care of your child may help ease the transition of care to someone who might express an interest in guardianship.