Some children with special health care needs (e.g., cerebral palsy, intellectual disability) will be unable to make their own medical and legal decisions when they reach the age of adulthood and their families will need to apply for guardianship when they turn 18. Starting the information gathering process and contacting a lawyer should occur before the 18th birthday. Guardianship is a legal process, used when an 18 year old is "unable to make or communicate safe or sound decisions about his/her person and/or property or has become susceptible to fraud or undue influence. Because establishing a guardianship may remove considerable rights from an individual, it should only be considered after alternatives to guardianship have proven ineffective or are unavailable. " (From the National Guardianship Association website, see below). Guardianship will generally take several months to obtain. Guardianship can be a graded process, for instance, guardianship may be granted for medical and financial decisions only, or for all aspects of care, depending on the abilities of the individual and his/her needs. A process of evaluation prior to the child's eighteenth birthday including discussions with the family will help determine this. National Guardianship Association offers information regarding guardianship and access to resources for children with disabilities. This information also applies to individuals the immediate family designate as guardians when they are no longer able to be the caregivers of the child/adult with disabilties.


Author: Lynne M Kerr, MD, PhD - 10/2008
Content Last Updated: 5/2011