Using disability guardianships to protect your children

If you are the parent of a teenager with special needs, you may be worried about who will handle their finances. While your child is still a minor, you are still in control as their parent and legal guardian. But once they turn 18, they will become a legal adult, even if they are living with a disability that prevents them from handling their own financial needs.

That is where disability guardianships come in. They allow you to continue exercising control over your child’s finances into their adulthood if they will not be able to do so themselves.

Disability guardianships in Florida

In Florida law, a guardian is a surrogate decision-maker for another person known as a “ward.” Usually, guardianship becomes necessary when the ward has a disability that prevents them from personally handling their personal and/or financial matters. For adult children, conditions that can make a guardianship necessary include Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia and a brain injury.

There are several types of guardianships, depending on if your child is able to handle some of their own affairs, or if they are totally dependant on you.

  • Plenary guardianship, or full guardianship. Someone with plenary guardianship rights has full authorization to make legal decision’s on the ward’s behalf. Before the court grants a plenary guardianship, it will require a hearing to determine if the prospective ward is incapacitated.
  • Limited guardianship, which grants power to the guardian only in specific areas. For example, it may give the guardian control over the ward’s finances, but reserve the ward’s right to make their own medical decisions and vote in elections.
  • Emergency temporary guardianship for situations in which the prospective ward’s health, safety or property is in imminent danger and they are found to be incapacitated.

If you believe your family needs a guardianship, speak to an experienced estate planning attorney about the process and what you need to do to protect your child.

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