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How to decide if you should obtain legal guardianship

Jessica Watson is a mom to five, four in her arms and one in her heart. She lives in Michigan where her life is as unpredictable as the weather. After the loss of her infant daughter in 2007, Jessica left the corporate world behind, vowe...

Tough choices made easier

If you are caring for a special needs child who is quickly approaching adulthood or have found yourself taking over the responsibilities of an aging parent, the decision to apply for legal guardianship is a difficult one to make.
Woman caring for elderly mother

Knowing the facts about legal guardianship and the responsibilities that come with it will help a difficult decision easier.

Trying to decide whether you should go through the process of of obtaining legal guardianship of an adult can be very difficult. You may find yourself in this situation if you are the parent of a special needs child who is soon to reach the age of 18, but may not be able to function independently, or if you are caring for an elderly parent who seems to be slowly losing mental ground. David Crosson, attorney at Crosson Law Office says, "The guardian will be responsible for arranging the other person's living arrangements, nutrition, medical decisions, financial decisions and the like. In some cases, the guardian may have to report to the Courts of the care being taken." There is a lot to consider if you are taking responsibility for these areas:

Finance

If your loved one is unable to balance their checkbook or understand the complexities of handling a back account, paying bills and reading credit card statements, once you obtain legal guardianship, these tasks will be in your hands. The positive side of this is that, if he or she were to make a poor decision and use a credit card improperly, for example, neither one of you would be responsible for a staggering bill. Having a guardian for finances illustrates to financial institutions that an individual cannot be held accountable for their own financial decisions.

Housing

Once obtaining guardianship, you may be responsible for making living arrangements as well. Ensuring that the individual in question has adequate housing arrangements -- whether they are living with you, in an independent living facility or a nursing home -- will fall within your role. If issues arise in their place of living, you will be the one called and expected to resolve such situations.

Quick Tip

Adding new responsibility involves analyzing your finances. Try one of these 6 online budget and money tools to help you get organized.

Daily care

If the person for who you have obtained guardianship is unable to perform daily duties to take care of themselves, such as proper hygeine, meal preparation and adequate exercise, you will be in charge of providing all they need from day-to-day. Whether you do it yourself, find a home care nurse or enlist the help of a living facility, you will have to ensure they are taken care of just as you would for a young child in your home.

Transportation

When someone is deemed in need of legal guardianship, they are generally unable to do independent skills, such as driving a vehicle. As guardian, you will be responsible for their transportation to and from doctors appointments, family outings and any other places they may need to go. There are services available to assist with transportation when you are unable. To find services in your area visit Disability.gov.

Quick Tip

Will you be taking care of your children and now one of your parents too. Read this for more on the Sandwich Generation: Taking care of your parents and your kids.

The Big Decision

Ultimately, making the choice to obtain legal guardianship is not an easy decision. Talking it through with all members of your family and making sure everyone understands how life may change, what your days will be like and the role you will play is very important to ensuring the success of such a life-changing event.

Crosson adds, "Proposed guardians must understand that their actions not only affect the person they are caring for, but also themselves. If, at any time, a decision is made that is not in the best interest of the special needs or elderly person, they can be held criminally or civilly liable in a Court of Law (depending upon the state that they are located). In addition, they must realize the simple fact that they may have to face very tough decisions regarding the health or life of a loved one. This is often hard for some persons to understand and go through, and therefore, must be taken into consideration."

If you do obtain legal guardianship visit Disibility.gov to find resources and assistance available in your area.

Quick tip

Another concern for parents of children with disabilities is securing their college education while also ensuring their daily needs are met. Read here for info on accredited online colleges and disability education.

More on special needs issues

Parenting a disabled child: Siblings growing older
Parenting a child with a disability: The teen years
Providing for children with special needs

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