The number of children who suffer from autism has risen dramatically in recent years. If your child is one of them, you more than likely spend a good deal of your time caring for your child. While he or she was under the age of 18, things were simple because you were legally considered your child’s natural guardian.

Now that your son or daughter has turned 18, the law considers him or her an adult who can make decisions alone and without your interference. However, your child is not able to handle that kind of independence. He or she still needs your care.

You could seek a conservatorship and/or guardianship

California law allows you to petition the courts to serve as your child’s guardian and/or conservator. However, due to the fact that taking such action puts serious limitations on your adult child’s freedom, the court will want to know if you have attempted, or at least explored, less restrictive ways to help him or her. If your child’s condition does not allow for any of the alternatives, such as powers of attorney, then applying for a guardianship and/or conservatorship may be the best course of action.

If you pursue a guardianship

The first step is to file a petition indicating your eligibility and intent to establish a guardianship over your child. More than likely, an independent evaluation of your child’s circumstances will occur. Your child, the proposed ward, will receive legal counsel to represent his or her interests. Thereafter, the court will review the evaluation and any other evidence provided to make a determination. If appointed, you will make decisions relating to the following:

  • Your child’s residence
  • Any change of residence
  • Any on-going or future medical treatment

The court will require an annual report regarding the guardianship. You must always keep your child’s best interests in mind when making any decision. You should also involve your child in such decisions as much as he or she is capable of doing so.

If you pursue a conservatorship

Where a guardianship deals with a ward’s life decisions, a conservatorship allows you to manage your child’s property, most often outside of any Social Security benefits received. Doing so removes your child’s ability to make these determinations and enter into legal agreements. You will take over his or her ability to do the following:

  • Bring or defend a lawsuit
  • Sell, buy or otherwise acquire or get rid of property
  • Make, terminate or modify contracts
  • Revoke a revocable trust
  • Conduct business
  • Enter into commercial transactions

The process is similar to obtaining a guardianship. In fact, most people petition for both at the same time. You have similar responsibilities to make choices in your child’s best interest and to act responsibly. The court will also require annual reports regarding the status of the property.

In order to better understand your responsibilities, the rights of your child and the process, you may want to work with an attorney experienced in this area of law.