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Guardianships for vulnerable child entering adulthood

Parents across King County understand the special challenges inherent in raising a child with a cognitive disability. Those challenges can become even more concerning as a vulnerable child grows into adulthood. Unfortunately, some parents of vulnerable children may feel intimidated by the legal system and neglect to take steps that can give them the legal authority necessary for the continuance of much needed care.

Parents concerned for the well-being of a child with special needs should know that establishing a guardianship need not be overly stressful or expensive. A guardianship, as one judge recently put it, can be a "celebration of family."

Many states acknowledge guardianship and conservatorship as two distinct mechanisms for granting parents legal authority to intervene in important decisions affecting the lives of adult children. Washington law only recognizes guardianship, but our state incorporates under the same title many of the powers typically associated with conservatorship.

A legal guardianship can be structured to give a family member authority to make decisions on behalf of a loved one. A guardian may oversee medical and financial decisions, as well as more personal decisions involving relationships, marriage and choice of residence.

Guardianship can also help protect a vulnerable loved one from becoming the victim of fraud or undue influence, in addition to ensuring that the loved one receives needed medical treatment and financial assistance. Establishing a guardianship before a vulnerable child reaches adulthood can also protect against any lapse in parental oversight.

Washington residents who care for a vulnerable child may benefit from having a solid understanding of the legal implications of guardianship, as well as the process for officially naming a guardian.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Judge calls conservatorships a 'celebration of family'," Teresa Watanabe, May 21, 2012

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