Thursday, August 18, 2016

Obtaining Legal Guardianship for Our Adult Special Needs Child

County Courthouse
Our daughter, EL, has turned 18, and it is a time full of mixed emotions for us. Happy as we celebrate her life and all the accomplishments she has made thus far. But, also a bit disheartening as we watch other girls her age becoming independent young women. We know that type of independence will not happen for our EL. She will always need some sort of supervision, as she is not capable of making important life and medical decisions on her own. With that in mind, David and I had to start the process of obtaining legal guardianship of her and her estate. It is somewhat strange that we, as her parents, need to become her legal guardians. But, in the government’s eyes, she is now considered an adult at the age of 18 and, therefore, presumed to be capable of making important decisions, as well as accepting adult responsibilities in full. So, if she doesn’t have a legal guardian to make the important decisions on her behalf, then there could be a disastrous outcome.

I want to share our experience with you of how we are obtaining legal guardianship, to maybe help prepare other parents of special needs children who will be walking this same road in the future. This has been all new territory for us, and there has been a lot of paperwork involved. But, it isn't as daunting as you might think. Just be sure you have a good attorney working with you and for you. FYI: There is a way to do all of the paperwork and petitioning on your own but, if you are not familiar with doing this, I would not recommend it. Our attorney was able to get certain things waived that would not have happened if David and I had done the petitioning on our own. Plus, having an attorney makes it more reassuring to know that things are being done correctly.

So, here’s a brief summary of our experience so far: 
1.  At the start of the year, we knew this was the year of transition, so we called around to several different lawyers in our area to see which ones were willing to accept a guardianship case. We finally found one, and went to his office to consult with him and get the ball rolling. But, there wasn’t much else we could do at that time. We had to wait until 2 months before her 18th birthday before taking the next step. 

2.  Step two was a very important step. I made an appointment with EL's Pediatrician,  took her in to get a physical, and asked the doctor to fill out the papers drawn up by our attorney. The paperwork included essential information from the doctor explaining the necessity for us to obtain plenary guardianship of EL. (NOTE: Plenary guardianship is when the court gives the guardians the power to exercise ALL legal rights and duties on behalf of a ward [i.e. a disabled person], after the court makes a finding of incapacity.)  

3.  Several weeks later, we had another meeting with our attorney, who drew up papers for David and I to sign. These were signed in order to petition the court for temporary plenary guardianship. This type of guardianship is good for up to 60 days, during which time a final hearing is held to determine the need for ongoing (permanent) guardianship.

4.  We went to court two days after EL’s 18th birthday. My husband gave testimony on the witness stand, our attorney represented us well, and temporary plenary guardianship was granted to us with no problem.  
5.  The next step is coming soon, and that is to have EL served a summons by the Sheriff's department requiring her to appear in court. It needs to be given directly to her, even though she really has no idea what it's all about.

6.  After the summons, we will await our final court date (scheduled in about a month), and that will be for granting us permanent plenary guardianship. 
If you have any questions for us about any part of this process, please contact me (or leave your questions in the comments section) and I will do my best to answer them. It's important to note that we are in Illinois, as each state has different procedures for granting guardianship. It will be important for you to find out what the requirements are for your state.

For Illinois residents, you can find a GUIDE TO ADULT GUARDIANSHIP IN IL at the IL Guardianship & Advocacy Commission website.


  1. You have our heart and prayers.

  2. You did an excellent job writing this; very clear and concise. I know this will help so many!

    1. Thanks, Daneille. That is my hope - that it will be helpful.


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