National Special Needs Month and Guardian Advocacy

October is National Special Needs Month and I wanted to focus this month on issues related to children with special needs.

One of the biggest issues that I deal with on a regular basis as a special needs attorney is when a special needs child turns 18 years old.  Parents of special needs children are used to dealing with the child’s doctors, with their schools, making all sorts of decisions that their child may not be capable of doing and  they are quite surprised to find out that they can no longer make those decisions once their child  turns 18.

Sometimes, the only option is to file for guardianship over the child which entails the  child’s rights being taken away and a guardian appointed to make financial and health care          decisions. But Florida has a program which allows a parent or other caregiver to obtain             guardianship, without having the child declared incapacitated, known as the guardian advocacy program. 

To qualify under the guardian advocacy program, the person  with a developmental     disability must have a disorder or syndrome that is attributable to retardation, cerebral palsy,       autism, spina bifida, or Prader‐Willi syndrome; that manifests before the age of 18; and               constitutes a substantial handicap that can reasonably be expected to continue indefinitely.

Remember, though, not every child with special needs requires a guardianship – only those that lack the decision-making ability to make the necessary daily life decisions require this.  For those that can understand and comprehend the decisions that need to be made, but still may require the help of a family member, like any other adult person, they can sign a durable power of attorney  and healthcare designation.

Attorney, Laurie Ohall, is an estate planning and special needs attorney based in Brandon, Florida, serving clients throughout Tampa Bay.  If you have a developmentally disabled child that is close to legal age, contact a special needs attorney as soon as possible to determine the legal options that are best for your family.