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Guardianships and alternatives for adult, disabled children in Texas

In yesterday’s blog post we discussed the process of requesting and obtaining a guardianship over your disabled, adult child. We will continue to discuss that topic today and will also get into alternatives that may be available to you if a guardianship is not appropriate.

Expected costs and timeframe of a guardianship proceeding in Texas

Once your child turns 18 years of age you can petition the court to become their guardian. It can take time to prepare a case and collect the necessary documents in order to actually get in front of a judge, however, so be prepared to wait until you and your attorney get to this stage. If you can anticipate a need as soon as your child becomes an adult at age 18 you should begin this process as soon as you can.

Approximately thirty days after your petition for guardianship is filed a judge should have a decision ready for you. Attorney’s fees can vary depending on the attorney you select as well as the area of the state where you live. Our office is more than happy to provide you with a description of the services that we can provide you and your family with as well as an explanation of our attorney’s fees.

What happens after the guardianship has been granted to you?

If you are fortunate enough to have your guardianship petition granted then you will still subject to the periodic review of your case by the court. The reason for this is that your child may show signs of newfound capabilities in regard to prior impairments. If your child’s conditions improve and no longer warrant the guardianship then this will need to be examined in greater detail. You may also petition the court on your own to do away with the guardianship if you believe that it is no longer in your child’s best interest.

Even if you don’t believe that the guardianship is no longer necessary, you will need to check in with the court on a yearly basis by filing a report that states how your child is doing and whether or not their physical or mental condition warrants a guardianship on a continuing basis.

What alternatives to a legal guardianship are available to you and your child?

There are ways that you can protect your child that are not as intrusive or all encompassing as a legal guardianship. For instance, you could consider setting up a joint bank account where you and your child are both able to deposit and withdraw money. I wanted to go over a few other options that are available and may be relevant/helpful to you and your child.

For instance, you can work with your child to name you as a person with power of attorney rights over his or her educational, medical or financial decisions. If your child becomes further incapacitated or otherwise unable to make competent decisions for themselves this responsibility could fall to you.

Otherwise, you can look into a supportive housing environment in your area that allows people with disabilities like your child to live together in a cooperative and supportive environment. Often times places like this allow residents to cook together, enjoy recreational activities on-site and generally help cope with the status of their disability as a family unit instead of as an individual. This can be great not only for your child’s self-esteem but also to lighten the burden that would ordinarily fall on your shoulders to provide complete support for your child.

What is supported decision making and how can it help your adult, disabled child?

In recent years, the Texas Legislature passed a law that allows supported decision making to be an option for an adult with disabilities. The primary thrust of the law is that any adult in Texas with a disability can make their own decision to sign an agreement that allows another adult to assist them in their decision making. This can be done without consulting with an attorney or other person. Think of this an informal guardianship.

The agreement can be signed to allow you as the “informal guardian” to have access to information regarding health care, education, finances and other subjects that you may be asked to assist in decision making. With this information available to you, your child and you can discuss the options available and make a decision that is best for your child. Their legal rights are still maintained and their overall independence is not sacrificed.

If you are in a position where you do believe that your child is incapacitated- that he or she is not able to manage their life despite the available options to them- you should file a petition for guardianship.

Pluses and minuses of these non-guardianship options

If you choose to allow your child complete autonomy over their decision making or choose to intercede using less intrusive methods than a guardianship your child’s autonomy is not sacrificed and their rights are fully retained in themselves. The risks are pretty obvious in that your child may not be ready to take on these responsibilities on their own and can suffer the consequences of bad decisions having been made. You may not even be aware that your child has made a bad decision because he or she can do so without your knowledge. If you do not attempt to be named their guardian, another person, such as adult protective services or your ex-spouse.

None of these options are permanent

Keep in mind that these options are not permanent. Even a guardianship is reviewed periodically by the court that granted the guardianship over your child. Many of these less intrusive, informal options are revocable at any time by you or your child. Each of these informal agreements intended to assist your child can restrict your ability to act in certain areas while allowing you to act in others Your particular circumstances will dictate how you proceed.

What questions should you ask yourself before beginning this process?

I would sit down and asses your child’s abilities. Where are his or her strengths? What are his or her limitations and when do these limitations usually cause problems for your child? In relation to these questions you should honestly review what rights your child has that he or she is able to maintain on their own without your assistance.

At the end of the day you should consider what you can do to help your child maintain as much independence as possible. Remember that you are not trying to strip your child of any of the rights he or she has as an adult, but are merely attempting to work with him or her to help avoid problems.

A great source to go to for guidance on this subject is your child him or herself. What does he or she want? What areas does he or she believe assistance is needed in, if any? Consider all of the above options that are available to you before deciding on one.

Involving your child as much as possible and working with friends, family and your child’s support system is a good way to start. These are the folks that know your child’s circumstances best and their perspective may be of great help to you. Finally, professionals like teachers, attorneys and physicians can lend an even greater perspective upon you that can help you finalize your decision making. Ultimately, having an experienced family law attorney on your side to advise you should you begin a guardianship proceeding is essential to your and your child’s future successes.

Questions about guardianships or any other subject we’ve discussed? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC

If you have any questions about guardianships or any of the other topics that we have discussed over the past few days please consider contacting the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. We offer free of charge consultations with licensed family law attorneys six days a week. We can address and answer your questions in a pressure-free environment here in our office. Texans have trusted our attorneys for years to work on behalf of their families and we are eager to share our story with you.

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