700 Children's Blog

Guardianships and POAs: Transitioning to Adult Care

Jun 13, 2019
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Most parents don’t stop worrying about their child after they turn 18. For parents of young adults with lifelong medical conditions and cognitive or learning disorders, there is an added worry of whether their child can be their own advocate. Can they explain their medical condition to others? Can they read and understand medical, or financial or legal forms?

Because of these worries, some parents chose to apply for legal guardianship or arrange a power of attorney (POA). This allows them to continue to be involved in their young adult’s medical care and financial decisions after they turn 18. It also allows parents to protect their young adult from other people taking advantage of them.

Please note: This information contains general information and families should always consult with a lawyer or local legal resources for specific information on their situation.

What is guardianship?

Guardianship is a legal process that allows someone else to make medical or financial decisions for an adult. It requires parents to file forms with the family (probate) court and may require them to go before a judge. The process can vary from state to state.

As part of the process, the teenager or young adult may need to undergo a psychological evaluation. Guardianship can last from a few months to a few years or indefinitely. To end the guardianship, new paperwork has to be filed with the court. Depending on the type of guardianship, it may take away some or all decision-making rights from the young adult.

Is there an alternative to guardianship?

The most common alternative to guardianship is a POA. A POA is a legal document that is signed (and notarized) to give one adult the right to make medical or financial decisions for a second adult. It does not usually require the parent to go before a judge, but may require filing forms with the court. 

With a POA, the young adult does not lose their decision-making rights. Additionally, a POA can also be discontinued (revoked) at any time. POAs are usually more limited in scope than guardianship.

Questions to think about when considering guardianship or a POA:

  • What’s my child’s reading or math level? Are they close to grade level or much lower?
  • Can they understand complex documents like consent for medical treatment, lease for an apartment, or a utility bill?
  • Do they lack maturity to make good financial decisions about buying a car or renting an apartment?
  • Are they at risk for other people taking advantage of them?

In some states, you can start the process just before a young adult turns 18 (often 3 months before they turn 18). In other states, you have to wait until the young adult turns 18 years-old to start the process.

There are online resources that can help parents when applying for guardianship. Sometimes parents can complete and file the paperwork on their own without needing a lawyer. Other times, parents may need to hire a lawyer or find help through a local community legal aid society.  

More information about guardianship and POA for families living in Ohio can be found from Disability Rights Ohio or the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council. The Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities (OCECD) also has informational sessions on Transitions for Young Adults including a more in-depth discussion of guardianship and alternatives to guardianship.  

Families living outside of Ohio can check the website of your local family (or probate) court for more information. Wrightslaw is also a great source of information on guardianship. Most states also have local legal aid programs to help families who need free or low-cost legal services.

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700 Children’s features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.