Your child with disabilities is turning 18

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You may be concerned about what happens to your child who is unable to care for themselves when they turn 18. Read this to learn about some of your options. #3303EN


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Yes, you should read this if you live in Washington State, and both of these are true:

  1. Your child cannot care for themselves because of a disability.
  2. You want to know what to do when your child turns 18.

This means going to court. It can be costly. Guardianship has other downsides as well.

  • Once a guardianship is in place, it's hard to remove.
  • Guardianship can have negative consequences for people with disabilities and their families and caregivers.
  • Guardianships often wrongly assume people with disabilities cannot make decisions for themselves. 

You may not need to get guardianship of your child after they turn 18. There are alternatives. You should try to use an alternative if you can. We will briefly explain your options here. One of these options might meet your child's needs.

Adults generally have the right to decide about their own medical care and/or treatment.  Informed Consent means making such decisions after medical providers inform you about the possible risks and benefits, and other options.

To give informed consent, you must be able to understand your choices and decide.

* Health care consent for children under age 18 is different. Read When can a minor access health care without parental consent? to learn more.

In some situations, this Washington law allows certain authorized people to make health care decisions for someone at least age 18 whose mental incapacity keeps them from doing so. You can read the law at RCW 7.70.065

The law looks for a substitute decision maker for that incapacitated adult in this order:

  • An appointed guardian.
  • Someone with durable power of attorney to make the patient's health care decisions.
  • The patient's spouse or registered domestic partner.
  • The patient's children who are at least age 18 (as a group).
  • The patient's parents (as a group).
  • The patient's adult brothers and sisters (as a group).
  • The patient's adult grandchildren who know the patient.
  • The patient's adult aunts and uncles who know the patient.
  • In some cases, an adult with a special relationship to the patient described in RCW 7.70.065(1)(a)(x)(A).

You choose what your child would want if they were competent to decide. If you cannot do this, you should decide based on what you believe is in your adult child's "best interests."

A Supported Decision Making (SDM) Agreement helps people with disabilities without limiting their rights. It lets your adult child with disabilities choose supports to make decisions and exercise their legal rights.

With an SDM agreement, your adult child can choose a trusted friend, relative, and/or other person to help them understand and make decisions, and to communicate decisions to, for example, doctors, and the bank.

Read Alternatives to Guardianship: Supported Decision Making Agreements (SDM) to learn more. It has a sample SDM agreement form.

A government agency appoints a representative payee to get and manage benefits for someone whose disability keeps them from doing it themselves.

If your adult child gets government benefits, you can ask the agency to appoint you as your child's payee. You don't need to be a guardian to be a representative payee.

Some federal agencies, including the  Social Security Administration and Veterans Administration, use representative payees. Some Washington State programs use similar protective payees.

You must use their benefits for their personal care or well-being.

They may not want a payee at all. Or they may just want someone else to be payee.

The agency in charge of the benefits can explain any rights your adult child has to object and to appeal the decision.

Get Legal Help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help. 

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Last Review and Update: May 16, 2024
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