If you have a child with special needs, you are probably accustomed to taking them to medical appointments and making decisions about their care. But, after they reach age 18, you will no longer automatically have the legal authority to make those decisions under Pennsylvania law.
What can you do about this change?
Guardianship is the legal relationship that gives an adult legal authority to make decisions on behalf of another. Parents are presumed to have guardianship over their children until their children reach adulthood, but there is a detailed process for establishing guardianship over an adult.
A typical scenario involves an elderly person who has developed dementia and no longer has the capacity to make important decisions about their finances or health. The court may appoint this person’s adult child as their guardian to make these decisions on their behalf.
The process can also be applied in situations involving a child with severe disabilities who is reaching the age of majority. However, courts consider most disabled people capable of making decisions about their health care, finances and other issues.
In fact, Pennsylvania law provides several alternatives to guardianship in this type of scenario, including health care directives and health care representatives.
Directives and representatives
An advanced health care directive is a document that is common in estate planning. It allows a person to consent or not consent to certain medical procedures in advance, on the chance that they will not be able to express their consent at a later time, due to injury, illness or other condition.
A person can also appoint a health care representative who will have the authority to make decisions about their medical care as they arise if they do not have the capacity to make those decisions on their own.
The legal issues involved in all these matters can be difficult. Experienced attorneys help parents assess their options and develop plans that can care for their special-needs children for many years to come.