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When Do I Need to Consider Conservatorship for my Developmentally Disabled Child?

On Behalf of | Feb 1, 2023 | Firm News

Is your child’s 18th birthday looming?  Or is your child already 18 or older?  While your developmentally disabled child’s needs have not necessarily changed, their legal status has definitely changed.  They are now adults and that means that your ability as a parent to make medical decisions for them or handle their finances is legally gone.

You may or may not experience any changes in how you care for your child because you continue to work with the same doctors and they recognize you as the caretaker for your child.  Or your child has no assets of their own or you are already established as their representative payee for their governmental benefits.  However, if an emergency medical need arises or your children unexpectedly inherits money, then you need something in place to be able to consent to a medical procedure or to handle their money.  These two situations are common ones where parents come to me to help them establish something for their developmentally disabled child.

What are your options?  If your child has sufficient capacity, they can sign an Advance Health Care Directive and a Power of Attorney to name you as their agent to make medical decisions and handle finances.  See my earlier post about the capacity requirements for those documents.  If they do not have sufficient capacity to execute documents or voluntarily request assistance, then you will need to consider a conservatorship which is the court process where the court determines that your child is mentally incompetent and that you are the appropriate person to be appointed their conservator.

Limited conservatorships are the type of conservatorship that is specifically available for developmentally disabled adults.  The focus is to narrow the powers that you as a parent will have over your child with the goal that the developmentally disabled adult can achieve self-reliance and independence.  See my prior post about the seven powers that a parent can request to have in a limited conservatorship over their child.

A general conservatorship can be considered for a developmentally disabled adult, but it is likely that the court, the local regional center, court investigator and court appointed counsel will recommend that a limited conservatorship be pursued instead.

You can start a proceeding to be appointed a limited conservator before your child turns 18.  There is a provision in the Order Appointing Limited Conservator which specifies when the Order goes into effect – on the child’s 18th birthday.  Some counties are still impacted from being closed during the pandemic and are setting hearings six or more months out from filing.   I used to recommend that you consider starting six months before the 18th birthday, but in those counties that are still backed up, I recommend that you start the process sooner.

Contact me, Jennifer S. Rouse, if you have questions about conservatorships or other needs for your developmentally disabled child.