What are the options for my child when he or she becomes an adult? This is a lingering thought of many parents and guardians of children with special needs. You may assume that because you’ve been caring for your child since birth, from a young age or because you are the custodial parent that you will automatically retain the same rights when he or she turns 18. This is not the case.
At 18 he or she is legally an adult and has all of the same rights as any other adult. In order to continue to have the legal right to make decisions for your child you must request legal guardianship or what is known in Tennesseeas as conservatorship. Conservatorship is a legal process by which a court decides that a person is unable to make decisions in some or all areas of life. If your child is approaching 18 it is probably time to begin thinking about conservatorship.
Keep in mind that with conservatorship your child is giving up his or her legal right to make certain decisions. So it should not be entered in lightly but should allow him or her to keep as much control as possible. Also, do not assume because you have only heard of one type that it is the best one for your situation. Below is some general information about the types of conservatorships:
• The most common is called full or plenary. This means that you as a parent or guardian will have authority over all aspects of the life of your child with special needs. This is used when the child is unable to independently decide on personal and property and finance issues. Although it is most common, it is also the most restrictive.
• Conservator of property, the estate and finance is a type of limited conservatorship. Your child may do well when it comes to taking care of personal needs such as living arrangements or holding a job but has trouble handling financial transactions and decisions regarding money. You would handle all of his or her financial transactions. Under this type of arrangement he may not be able to endorse checks or have a credit card or a bank account independently.
• There is also conservator of the person. Your child may need help making personal decisions including, but not limited to, where to live, travel, shop and when and where to seek medical treatment. The court would point out specific decision-making areas under this type of conservatorship.
• Co-conservatorship (typically both parents) would be structured so that both conservators can act independently of each other. For instance if one parent is out of the country the other would be able to make decisions without the consent of the parent who is out of town.
The conservator process varies from state to state but the above information is applicable to the state of Tennessee. For more information on this process visit the website for the Arc or The Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.