It is usually easy for parents to know their responsibilities toward their children when the children are small. In addition to providing them with food, clothing, shelter and education, a parent can offer advice and guidance for nearly every decision, from what to wear to whom to date. Once children reach the age of 18, however, they are legally adults, and you can only hope your training and advice has made a difference.
If your child has a developmental disability, however, things are quite different. When your child turns 18, he or she may be a legal adult, but that does not mean your child has the ability to make sound decisions, for example if your child has autism or an IQ below 70. Nevertheless, you may no longer have the legal authority to handle such matters as your child's finances once he or she reaches 18, and you may need to seek a limited conservatorship if you wish to continue providing help.
The rights of a conservator
Limited conservatorship is a legal appointment of certain rights that a California judge would give to you so you can care for your adult child with developmental disabilities. If your child's chronic disability occurred before he or she turned 18, the child is eligible for conservatorship. As the name implies, a limited conservatorship gives you limited authority over your child and his or her estate. Your child may be perfectly capable of handling many routines in a normal day, but may require assistance in any of these areas:
- Deciding where to live
- Accessing and managing confidential records, such as bank statements and medical bills
- Understanding and signing contracts
- Consenting to medical procedures
- Deciding whether to attend school or seek vocational training
- Making decisions about entering into marriage, domestic partnerships, sexual relations and social relationships
- Managing financial transactions
As your child's limited conservator, you would have authority over these matters with certain restrictions. For example, you may not consent to having your child institutionalized in a locked ward or consent to a medical procedure that would result in sterilization.
It is important for a limited conservator to ensure the child receives every opportunity to learn self-reliance and become as independent as possible. This can mean providing education, socialization, work opportunities and counseling as needed. If limited conservatorship seems appropriate for your situation, your first step is to obtain as much information as possible and find a compassionate legal professional who can answer your questions and guide you through the process.