We receive many questions on a weekly basis about different issues facing parents of disabled adult children. One common question is about filing for guardianship over the disabled child after they have turned age 18. Did you know that, after a child turns 18, parents lose their rights to speak for that child, and to make financial and health care decisions? This can be especially hard if the child is disabled.
In Florida, if a child has a developmental disability that started before the age of 18, the court can appoint what is known as a “guardian advocate” to help a person who lacks the decision-making ability to manage their personal care or finances. In order to file for guardian advocacy, the child must be over the age of 18 with a developmental disability which includes a disorder or syndrome attributable to intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, autism, spina bifida, Prader-Willi syndrome, Down syndrome or Phelan-McDermid syndrome. (See Florida Statute, Section 393.063 (12)).
Usually, it is a parent that files the Petition requesting to be named the guardian advocate. Florida Statute, Section 393.12 even allows a person to do this without being represented by an attorney, unless the court requires an attorney or if the guardian advocate is trying to be guardian over the person’s property (other than the right to be representative payee of government benefits). If the disabled adult child has real estate, a personal injury settlement or any other assets/income other than the receipt of SSI or SSDI, the court will require that the guardian advocate be represented by an attorney.
If you are interested in representing yourself as guardian advocate, there are some resources that you can look at to help you file the paperwork. Please note, if you go to the Clerk of Court and ask them to help you, they cannot help you because that would be considered the unauthorized practice of law. Clerks cannot give legal advice. So, do not bother thinking you can get them to help you through this process. Also, please do not expect an attorney to provide you with free legal advice on how to fill out the forms – attorneys get paid for their knowledge and understanding of how the system works.
Here are some resources to help you, if you decide to file on your own:
In Hillsborough County (13th Judicial Circuit):
In Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union counties (8th Judicial Circuit):
In Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson and Washington counties (14th Judicial Circuit):
In Brevard County (18th Judicial Circuit):
In Lake County (5th Judicial Circuit):
In Lee County (20th Judicial Circuit):
In Seminole County (18th Judicial Circuit):
Orange County (9th Judicial Circuit):
Osceola County (9th Judicial Circuit):
These links are to various counties throughout Florida which have the forms on their Clerk of Court websites. Please bear in mind that the materials are specific to each county. The Courts may vary as to how their procedures are handled, such as the wording of the forms, criminal background checks and types of forms filed. If you are filling these forms out on your own, you should know that you will not be able to call the clerk’s office to ask questions as the court staff cannot act as your lawyer or give you legal advice. If you are not sure how to handle this or what to file, you may want to consider hiring an attorney to help you.
If you have questions about guardian advocacy for disabled adult children, please contact us at (813) 438-8503 or use the form on the right hand side of the screen to email us.