Understanding Guardianship for Young Adults with Disabilities

Understanding Guardianship for Young Adults with Disabilities

As a parent, friend, or family member of a young adult with a disability, you are intimately aware of your loved one’s capabilities and limitations. This person may require assistance in making important decisions that impact their quality of life, health, education, or financial wellbeing, among others. While acting as an informal advisor provides some level of support, there may come a time when a legally-binding arrangement better serves your loved one’s best interest. 

Securing a legal guardianship to act on a young adult’s behalf involves working through a complicated court process. Common missteps typically cause everyday people to suffer delays, refile cour documents, and even start the process over. Compounding the problems associated with the dense bureaucracy, there are no one-size-fits-all guardianships for young adults. At Lilac City Law, we work with loving families every day to navigate the guardianship process. If you are considering a young adult guardianship, these are things you can anticipate during the process. 

What You Need To Know About Guardianships

Caring people outside the legal professions often believe that securing a legal guardianship is their only option to protect a loved one. This is not necessarily the case. Several alternative options may adequately resolve any concerns or needs. Washington State’s guardianship statutes require other legal pathways to be considered. Moving forward with a young adult guardianship filing could prove a waste of time and resources unless the following items are considered first. 

Education Representative

In Washington State, an automatic Transfer of Rights occurs when a minor turns 18 years old. In instances of minors with disabilities, the school district may notify parents, guardians, and the student before this transfer. It’s not uncommon for loved ones to promptly file for guardianship rights as the age of majority approaches. But retaining rights over a young adult with a disability can have unforeseen negative results. For instance, a guardianship could impact the person’s right to vote, among others. Becoming a legally designated educational representative limits authority and decision-making power. But it also leaves the individual’s other rights intact. 

Payee Representative

Guardianships for young adults tend to deliver broad decision-making powers. But when a loved one only needs assistance in niche areas, becoming a legal representative can have advantages. Representative payees typically field revenue such as Social Security Disability benefits on behalf of the person and oversee their bill-paying obligations. This legal designation limits oversight to financial matters without impacting other rights. 

Power of Attorney

A somewhat broader solution may be gaining a power of attorney. This allows loved ones to make informed decisions on financial, medical, and other essential life issues for the young adult. This designation is typically voluntarily transferred by the young adult.  

Wide-reaching alternatives to a young adult guardianship also include items such as a special needs trust, and vulnerable adult protection orders, among others. In all likelihood, the court will ask to what degree alternatives were considered or pursued before agreeing to a guardianship arrangement. If you have not thoroughly explored these possibilities, your guardianship petition could be rejected. That means the time invested would be wasted as the court sends you back to square one. 

Filing Young Adult Guardianship Paperwork

A young adult guardianship attorney can help decide the most straightforward pathway for protecting your loved one’s best interest. Having an attorney who routinely works through this process, your petition will be strengthened by the fact alternatives have been explored. Articulating the reasons why a guardianship provides the best possible protection and care will help avoid the court denying the petition and forcing you to start all over. 

The time saved by diligently navigating the process can help avoid a gap between when the person turns 18 years old, and the guardianship begins. Although the guardianship tends to be rigorous and requires complicated filings, it can be expedited in a matter of months if no errors or missteps occur. That being said, these are standard documents that are required to be filed with the court, among others. 

  • Petition for Guardianship 
  • Guardian ad Litem Order
  • Notice of Petition 
  • Declaration of Service
  • Order Appointing Guardian
  • Declaration of Proposed Guardian
  • Guardian Oath
  • Mandated Guardianship Training Declaration 
  • Standby Guardian 
  • Guardianship Inventory

Failing to file accurate petitions supported by thorough documentation ranks among the primary reasons why everyday people suffer delays in the young adult guardianship process. Financial concerns often drive the decision to try and negotiate the high legal standards and bureaucracy. Working families are often pleased to discover they may qualify for no-cost court filings and guardian ad litem services. Enlisting the help of an experienced guardianship attorney can save you time, as well as money. 

Common Steps To Secure A Young Adult Guardianship

Although the documentation required to petition the court for a guardianship can be quite stringent, judges understand that a vulnerable community member sometimes needs the support of loved ones. The court proceedings are designed to deliver that support while ensuring the young adult’s best interests are served. 

Commonly acceptable reasons to petition the court include a disabled minor nearing the age of 18, inability to provide self-care, or manage finances. It may also be necessary to intervene when a disabled person suffers from neglect or is being exploited. If you are seeking a young adult guardianship, these are procedural elements you can expect.

  • Guardianship Training: If you are a non-professional or “layperson” in legal jargon, the court will mandate that you undergo guardianship education. Training sessions are generally free of charge and can be conducted online. The coursework typically takes about two hours and outlines a guardian’s duties and responsibilities. The court will require a declaration of completion. You can save time by completing the sessions before petitioning the court. 
  • Petitioning For Guardianship: The paperwork mentioned above will need to be completed and supporting documentation compiled. With the help of your guardianship lawyer, a guardian ad litem candidate may be included. Having a diligently prepared filing can save substantial time and avoid common setbacks.  
  • Court-Appointed Guardian Ad Litem: At the initial court hearing, a guardian ad litem is usually appointed. This certified professional will conduct an independent review and provide the court with a report. You can expect an in-home visit, and additional professionals may be included. It’s not unusual for a social worker to accompany the guardian ad litem. These professionals consider the environment and ask questions to understand whether the proposed guardianship is in the young adult’s best interest. 
  • Guardianship Hearing: During the formal hearing, judges ask specific questions to determine whether a guardianship is in the person’s best interest. It’s not unusual for a judge to bring up alternatives, and your legal representative will need to articulate why the petition before the court is the best option. Parties who are against the guardianship may also speak at the hearing. Your lawyer can cross-examine any opposing parties and making arguments on your behalf. 
  • Letters of Guardianship: Should the court rule in your favor, a formal document will be issued that transfers decision-making powers to the guardian. The letters may also outline certain restrictions.

The young adult guardianship process does not necessarily have a specific timetable assigned to case review and completion. A diligently drafted petition with supporting documentation can save you a significant amount of time. And, having completed to guardianship training in advance helps facilitate the process. Other important time-related issues include being available for the guardian ad litem visit and potential follow-up questions.

Working With An Experienced Guardianship Attorney Saves Time

Although the court system can be challenging to negotiate for everyday people, lawyers who secure vital guardianships for community members have the skills and experience to expedite the process. Along with common pitfalls such as misfiled court papers and inadequate supporting documents, laypeople sometimes don’t indicate the scope of guardianship. Judges may be willing to order a limited guardianship rather than agree to full and unfettered decision-making authority. 

When everyday people try to petition the court on their own, these are the types of issues that get them bogged down. By working with an experienced young adult guardianship law firm, your case can flow through the court system seamlessly. Having a qualified legal professional to answer technical legal questions helps everyday people overcome potential setbacks and keep the process fast-tracked. 

If you have a minor child approaching 18 years old or are considering securing a guardianship for other reasons, Lilac City Law provides determined legal services that support our vulnerable community members. Contact our law office and schedule a young adult guardianship consultation today.

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