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A guardianship may help special needs children as they turn 18

Many parents of special needs children in Georgia wonder about what happens when their child turns 18. Will they lose control of the child's money? Who will make medical decisions for the child? Who will manage the child's life? Answering these questions can be some of the most difficult aspects of special needs planning. The answers to many of these and other questions will depend upon the nature and severity of the child's disability. In extreme situations where the child is not mentally competent or suffers from limited mobility or has assets that must be protected and managed, a guardianship may be the answer.

Establishing a guardianship requires an attorney to appear in court to obtain the necessary orders. Sometimes, guardianship proceedings can become intensely adversarial if the child's caregivers hold different opinions on the type of care the child requires. The creation of a guardianship gives another person nearly complete control over the child's life as an adult. The court, however, must pay attention to the child's best interests, and the judge cannot order any restrictions or special provisions that would adversely affect the child's best interests.

A guardianship can provide significant relief for the child's parents. By law, the guardian is required to consider and act to advance or protect the child's best interests at all times. Moreover, the guardian cannot have a conflict of interest. The guardian can be given authority to make medical decisions for the child, oversee financial matters and take legal actions that are necessary to protect the child. A guardianship may also be the answer if the parents are elderly or are themselves disabled.

Any person considering the creation of a guardianship for their special needs child should understand the legal reach of a guardianship. A guardian is a person appointed by probate court to care for and supervise the affairs of an adult who is found to lack "sufficient capacity to make or communicate significant responsible decisions concerning his or her health or safety." An experienced special needs attorney can provide useful advice on how to create a guardianship and the consequences for the special needs child who becomes the guardian's ward.

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