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Understanding the Duties of a Parent Once Their Disabled Child Turns 18: Florida Guardian Advocacy


When a child with developmental disabilities reaches the age of 18, parents often face new legal and practical challenges. In Florida, the legal landscape shifts significantly as the child becomes an adult in the eyes of the law. This transition can be daunting, but Florida's guardian advocacy system offers a framework to help parents continue to provide the necessary support and protection. Let's explore the key duties and responsibilities parents must consider once their disabled child turns 18.


The Legal Shift at 18


At 18, individuals are legally considered adults, which grants them full decision-making rights. For children with developmental disabilities, this can present significant challenges, as they may not be fully equipped to handle all aspects of adult life independently. This is where guardian advocacy, under Florida Statute Section 393.12, becomes crucial.


What is Guardian Advocacy?


Guardian advocacy is a legal process allowing a court to appoint a guardian advocate for individuals with developmental disabilities who lack the decision-making ability to care for themselves or manage their property. Importantly, this can be done without declaring the individual incapacitated, making it a less restrictive alternative to full guardianship.


Steps to Becoming a Guardian Advocate


1. **Petitioning the Court**: Parents must file a petition with the circuit court to become a guardian advocate. This petition should detail the child’s disability, their specific needs, and why a guardian advocate is necessary.

2. **Medical Evaluation**: A supporting affidavit or medical evaluation from a qualified physician must accompany the petition. This evaluation should confirm the developmental disability and the areas where the individual lacks decision-making capacity.


3. **Legal Representation**: The court will appoint an attorney to represent the individual with disabilities, ensuring their rights are protected throughout the process.


4. **Court Hearing**: A hearing will be scheduled where the judge reviews the petition, medical evaluation, and any other evidence. If satisfied, the court will issue an order appointing the parent as the guardian advocate.


Duties of a Guardian Advocate


Once appointed, guardian advocates have several important responsibilities:


1. **Ensuring Well-being**: The primary duty is to ensure the physical and emotional well-being of the individual. This includes making decisions about healthcare, living arrangements, and daily activities.


2. **Managing Finances**: If granted authority, the guardian advocate manages financial matters, including budgeting, paying bills, and managing any benefits or income the individual receives.


3. **Advocacy**: Guardian advocates must advocate for the individual’s rights and best interests in all settings, including medical appointments, educational institutions, and social services.


4. **Reporting to the Court**: Guardian advocates are required to provide periodic reports to the court detailing the individual’s status and any significant decisions made. This ensures ongoing oversight and protection.


Preparing for the Transition


Parents should begin preparing for this transition well before their child turns 18. Key steps include:


1. **Education and Planning**: Familiarize yourself with the guardian advocacy process and requirements. Consider attending workshops or consulting with an attorney specializing in disability law.


2. **Financial and Legal Arrangements**: Establish financial and legal arrangements that will support the individual’s needs, such as setting up special needs trusts or obtaining benefits.


3. **Communication**: Engage in open discussions with your child, if possible, about their future needs and preferences. Involve them in the planning process to the extent they are able.


The transition to adulthood for a child with developmental disabilities can be complex and challenging, but Florida’s guardian advocacy system provides a structured way for parents to continue supporting their children. By understanding and fulfilling the duties of a guardian advocate, parents can ensure their adult children receive the care and protection they need while respecting their rights and autonomy.


If you need guidance on navigating this process, our law firm is here to help. We specialize in guardian advocacy and are dedicated to providing compassionate and knowledgeable support to families during this critical transition. Contact us today to learn more about how we can assist you in securing your child’s future.


For a free consultation regarding guardianship or for further help with the guardianship process please contact us at:

(239) 437-1197

6843 Porto Fino Cir,

Fort Myers, FL 33912, USA


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