Legal tips for when your special needs child turns 18

You have always taken good care of your child. You have risen to the challenge of having a child with special needs with flying colors. Now that your daughter or son will soon be turning 18, things are about to change.

As long as your child is under 18, you have the right to control their finances and make medical and educational decisions on their behalf. But after their 18th birthday, they are legally an adult, even if they cannot take care of these things themselves. Fortunately, there are legal steps you can take to ensure that you can keep taking care of your child for years to come. Options include:

  • Set up a special needs trust. Specifically, a third-party special needs trust. This is a type of trust that allows you to include assets that belonged to a third party (such as yourself) and not your child. Once in the trust, as trustee you can administer the assets for the benefit of your child. This is a good way of leaving part or all of your estate to your child without affecting their eligibility for Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income.
  • Create a conservatorship. A conservatorship can grant you similar power over your child’s key life decisions as you had when your parental rights still applied. Depending on your daughter or son’s mental capacity, this can include buying, maintaining and selling real estate; signing, modifying and terminating contracts; and other business-related matters. This is especially important when your child owns property or earns an income outside of SSI payments.

Your right to protect and care for your special-needs child does not have to end once they become a legal adult. To find out what strategy would work best for your family, consult an estate planning attorney.

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