Tag Archives: guardianship law

Guardianship Checklist for Special Needs Children

If you are the parent of a special needs child, no matter what age, start thinking about guardianship.  Here is a “To Do” List to help get you started:

  • At age 17, contact an attorney to determine the fee schedule – if necessary, begin saving for the attorney’s fee or set the money aside as soon as possible.
  • Remember – if you are applying for the guardianship, you will also have to pay the court-appointed attorney’s fees.  Fees range from $1,200 and up, depending upon the complexity of the action and the individual’s fees.  Most judges will require that you pay the attorney within ten (10) days of the final judgment appointing you as guardian.
  • Begin discussing guardianship with family members.
  • If you are contemplating divorce from the parent of your special needs child, ensure that guardianship issues are discussed and settled in your divorce decree.
  • If you are already divorced and you have not settled this issue with your ex-spouse, begin that conversation – either yourself or through your family law attorney.  Contact a family law mediator to work through these issues.
  • Begin contemplating a Special Needs Trust – there are many financial issues that can impact the receipt of Medicaid and other government benefits.
  • Discuss estate planning with your spouse and grandparents regarding the special needs child as beneficiary – consult an attorney to determine the best way to do so in order to preserve the child’s entitlement to government benefits.
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Practicing Guardianship Law

Sometimes, you set out down a path, thinking you are going one way, then your life takes you in a decidedly different way.  Sometimes, you set out on a path, and you don’t realize that the experiences in your life have made you particularly suited for the path you’ve taken.

Of course, the first statement has happened to everyone, and parents of special needs children absolutely can identify with it.  The second statement came to me as an “aha!” moment while preparing for trial in a guardianship case, when I was explaining to a colleague how I approach my guardianship cases as a court-appointed attorney.  What I had not realized until this discussion is that the personal experiences throughout my life have made me particularly suited for practicing Guardianship Law – especially those cases involving guardianship over developmentally disabled children.

As a young child, I participated in many events and outings with physically disabled children.  My aunt was a physical therapist who worked with children who had cerebral palsy.  She would take me with her to special events, and I gained a great appreciation and respect for both the children afflicted with this condition, as well as the struggles their families faced in dealing with their child’s disability.

As a young teen, I used my athletic ability to help others when I volunteered with the Special Olympics.  What struck me at that age was the emphasis by the parents and other adult volunteers to treat these children as if they had no disability at all – don’t talk down to them, don’t placate them, but instead, talk to them as an equal and hold them accountable as equals.  It seems obvious now, but I saw how easy it was to slip into the other behavior and mindset.  Since my time volunteering for Special Olympics, I have practiced that philosophy in my encounters with developmentally disabled children and adults.

What is amazing to me is how those experiences have now impacted my legal career.  While I started my career in a different field, I now find myself back in a position to help families with special needs children, just as I had as a young person.  Now I am in a position to help families in this situation in a more profound way.

Since January 2011, I have been involved in many guardianship cases involving special needs children as a court-appointed attorney.  What has impressed me with almost all of my cases so far is what I learn from each family – perseverance, kindness, and love.  Each of these families have had to deal with varying degrees of disability, economic hardships, and family crises, but each one has pulled together out of love for their special needs child.   That goes for parents and caregivers as well as siblings and extended family members.  In the face of such difficulty, where it would be incredibly easy to allow the situation to tear families apart, families come together and make it work.

Even though it took me a while to realize it, I believe that guardianship is the area of the law that I am particularly suited to practice.  I started my own law firm to help people, and in my mind, guardianship cases are the best example of how the law can do so.

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