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Your Child with Disabilities is Turning 18

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
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If you have a child who is unable to care for him- or herself because of a disability, you may be concerned about what to do when your child turns 18. Parents do not automatically have the authority to make legal decisions for their children who turn 18, when the law considers the person an adult. Publication #3303EN


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Is this for me?

Yes, if:

  • Your child cannot care for themselves because of a disability.

  • You are concerned about what to do when your child turns 18.

Should I file for guardianship?

This requires going to court. It can be costly. 

You may not need a guardianship.  The options we discuss here might meet your child's needs.

What is informed consent?

Adults generally have the right to decide about their own medical care/treatment.  Informed Consent means making such decisions after medical providers inform you about

  • The possible risks/benefits.

  • Other options. 

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

*Health care consent for minor children is different.  RCW 7.70.065(2).

What is the Consent to Health Care Statute?

This Washington law allows you in some situations to make health care decisions for an adult whose mental incapacity keeps them from being able to.  RCW 7.70.065(1).  The law looks for a substitute decision maker for an 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 eighteen (as a group).

  • The patient's parents (as a group).

  • The patient's adult brothers and sisters (as a group).

*Some states' laws may be different.

How do I make health care decisions for an incapacitated adult?

You choose what the person would want if they were competent to decide.  If you cannot do this, you should decide based on what you believe is in their "best interests."

What is a representative payee?

A government agency appoints a representative payee to receive/manage benefits for someone whose disability keeps them from doing it themselves. If your adult child gets government benefits, you or another suitable adult can ask the agency to appoint you their payee. 

Who uses representative payees?

Agencies including:

  • Social Security Administration

  • Veterans Administration

Some Washington state programs use similar protective payees.  RCW 74.12.250; 74.08.280; WAC Chapter 388-460.

How do I manage their benefits?

A representative payee must use the incapacitated person's benefits for the person's personal care or well-being. 

Do I need to be a guardian to be a representative payee?


What if the person getting benefits does not want me to be payee?

The person may not want a payee, or may want someone else to be payee. The agency administering the benefits can explain any rights the person has to object and to appeal the decision.

Where can I get more info?

Alternatives to Guardianship for Adults has more info.



This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not  intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.
This information is current as of June 2017.

© 2017 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014.
(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)

Last Review and Update: Jun 29, 2017