Becoming a guardian for an individual with special needs carried great responsibilities. At the same time, few people expect to fill this role in their lifetime. For many special needs guardians, there is a significant learning curve when it comes to understanding their rights and obligations. At Beller & Bustamante P.L., our guardianship lawyers in Jacksonville have more than 30 years of combined experience helping guardians fulfill their duties. We can help ease many of the burdens by answering your questions and providing you with sound, effective advice.
What Is a Special Needs Guardian?
A guardian is someone legally appointed by a court to oversee the care and wellbeing of another person. While guardianship often comes up in the context of caring for older loved ones, young children with special needs may also need a guardian.
When a court appoints a guardian, they give the guardian the ability to make decisions on the other’s behalf. Depending on the extent of an individual’s disability, a guardian may be responsible for making all of the decisions on another’s behalf. Or, they may just make decisions that pertain to certain aspects of the other person’s life. Technically speaking, a guardian is the sole decision-maker for any issue covered by the grant of guardianship; however, a guardian needs to involve the other person to the extent that they can.
Common Challenges When Serving As a Special Needs Guardian
Recent guardians may feel overwhelmed by their newfound responsibilities. This is as common as it is understandable. However, once appointed, guardians immediately assume their duties and should consult with a guardianship attorney in Jacksonville as soon as possible to address any of their concerns.
So let’s talk about a few of the most common challenges that guardians face.
Determining the Extent of Your Decision-Making Authority
Not all special needs guardianships are the same. Under Florida law, there are a few different types of guardianships.
When a person cannot make any decisions on their own behalf due to their disability, the court may order a plenary guardianship or full guardianship. Plenary guardianships are relatively rare. The law reserves these full guardianships for situations where an individual is completely incapacitated. Plenary guardians are responsible for making all decisions on behalf of the individual with special needs, including personal decisions, financial decisions, where they live, and what they do with their property.
If someone can make some decisions on their own, the court may appoint a limited guardian. Limited guardians only have decision-making authority over those issues outlined in the guardianship order. For example, a court might appoint a limited guardian to oversee a person’s financial affairs but allow the person to make their own personal decisions, such as where they live.
Children with special needs are legally under the care of their parents. However, when a child reaches the age of majority, the law presumes that they are able to handle their own affairs. Of course, for individuals who have special needs, this may not be the case.
Serving as a guardian for a special needs child is very different from serving as a guardian for an adult. Adults have additional rights and responsibilities, which can, in turn, trigger additional responsibilities for the guardian. For example, the following issues may come up for guardians of adults with special needs.
Social security benefits
Minors who receive supplemental social security benefits may lose them when they reach adulthood, depending on their disability. Benefits may still be available, but the recipient will need to be reassessed after they reach the age of 18. A guardian may need to arrange to have an individual’s eligibility re-determined under a different standard.
Another adult’s health policy may not cover adults with special needs. Under Florida law, dependent coverage is available until the age of 30. However, once someone reaches 30, they will need to arrange for another form of healthcare, which may include applying for Medicaid. Depending on the type of guardianship, this will likely be the guardian’s duty.
Currently, all men must register for military service upon reaching 18 years of age. This is the case even if an individual suffers from one or more disabilities. The only exceptions to this are if the individual is institutionalized or hospitalized. Thus, it may be a guardian’s responsibility to register an individual for Selective Service.
Those with special needs obtain the right to vote when they turn 18. It is only after a judge legally declares an adult incompetent that the law does not allow them to vote. Thus, guardians should determine if the individual is eligible to vote. If they are eligible, the guardian may also help the individual register to vote, and even help when it comes time to vote.
While some special needs individuals retain the right to make their own financial decisions, these issues are often delegated to guardians. Overseeing another’s financial wellbeing can be overwhelming. However, there may be sources of funding that can help an individual with special needs with their everyday needs, such as a special needs trust. Guardians must be aware of any special needs trust that exists. They should also have the trustee’s contact information to help facilitate disbursements and purchases.
Were You Recently Named As a Special Needs Guardian?
If a court named you as a special needs guardian, and you have questions about your responsibilities and how to fulfill them, reach out to the dedicated Jacksonville guardianship legal team at Beller & Bustamante, P.L. Guardianship can be very complicated, especially for those who never expected to assume such massive responsibilities. At Beller & Bustamante, P.L., our lawyers have more than 30 years of experience helping individuals serve in their capacity as guardians. We pride ourselves on providing effective advice and counsel regardless of the issues a guardian may face. To learn more, and to schedule a consultation with one of our knowledgeable attorneys, give us a call or reach out to us through our online contact form.