Taking care of your child with a disability or special health care needs often takes the bulk of your time, energy and attention. It can be hard to even think about times when your child might need more help and protection than you will be able to give them.
Fortunately, certain legal tools and documents can help and protect children with disabilities or special health care needs, no matter their age. We talk about ways to use many of these tools on our legal options for age 18 and beyond page. And below, we have a brief description of different tools you might want to use and links to other pages with more information. We recommend talking to your lawyer or financial advisor for more details or advice related to your specific situation.
Having the right legal tools in place can protect your child’s benefits, help you oversee their medical care or finances and help your child advocate for themselves or let you support them in adult decisions.
Your Legal Tools
Wills and Trusts
- Wills and trusts let you ensure your child is taken care of if something happens to you.
- A Special Needs Trust allows you to set money aside for your child without affecting their federal or state benefits. You can learn more about these on our wills and trusts page.
- Supported decision-making is a way to help an adult with a disability make life decisions. Your child can ask someone they trust, like you or another adult family member or friend, to be their supporter. This is someone who helps your child think about options, understand risks, make decisions and communicate those to others.
- Your child’s supporter can have access to medical, educational, financial and other information and help them understand it to make decisions. Your child has to agree on their own to sign a supported decision-making agreement without anyone telling them to.
Power of Attorney
- A durable power of attorney is a document that your adult child can sign to give you the legal power to do certain things for them. It can be for a general or limited purpose. A power of attorney may be used to make decisions about finances, education, medical care, etc. Your child must understand what it means to sign a contract to use a power of attorney.
- A power of attorney for educational decisions is a way for your child to let their school know that they want you to keep making decisions about their education when they are age 18 and older.
- A medical power of attorney is a document your adult child can sign to allow you to make medical decisions for them if they become unable to do so.
- A financial power of attorney is a document your adult child can sign to give you permission to oversee their money.
Other Legal Tools
- A representative payee is someone who manages Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance benefit payments for another person. Your child can ask for you to be their representative payee so that you can help them with their benefits to make sure their needs are met.
- A living will, or health care directive is a letter that outlines what you and your child would want to happen in what might be an end-of-life medical situation.
- A Letter of Intent is a living document that describes your child’s needs, wants, dreams and everyday care. This is not a formal legal document but could be used by a court to help understand your child’s desires. The information in the LOI is useful for your child’s caregivers and teachers. It also helps you explain your child’s needs in school meetings or doctor’s visits.
- Guardianship gives you complete control over areas of your adult child’s life that they cannot safely manage on their own. You must declare your child incompetent to make these decisions for themselves. The court system grants and supervises guardianships.
- A medical record information release, also known as a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA release, is a document that allows a patient to list the names of family members, friends, clergy, health care providers or other people they want to be able to see and get their medical information. For example, your child could sign one and name you to help with their medical care if you don’t have any other legal tools in place. They would have to sign one with each doctor’s office.
Creating a Supported Decision-Making Agreement, Powers of Attorney and a Living Will
- The Arc of Texas lists many different resources. They include this Disability Rights Texas toolkit and a sample form for supported decision-making agreements.
- You can find other instructions and forms online for the legal tools mentioned on this page to get ideas. But be very careful about using power of attorney and will-related documents you find on the Internet. These were not created with your family’s unique requirements in mind. If you already work with a lawyer, they might have standard forms you can use.
- Some of these documents need to be signed in front of a person called a “notary public” or “notary.” Notaries often work in lawyer’s offices, banks, insurance agencies, grocery stores or have their own businesses.
- Your child has to be 18 years old before they can sign their own legal documents.
- For the court to recognize these forms, your child has to know what the documents mean, what they include and how they work before signing them. If your child cannot show that they understand what a document means, it is not a legal option.
- To read some pros and cons from other parents on power of attorney, supported decision-making and guardianship, see our page on Legal Options for Age 18 and Beyond.
Having the Right Legal Tools in Place Can Help You
- Make sure your child is still able to get federal benefits.
- Oversee your adult child’s medical care.
- Give key guidance when your adult child might not be ready to make their own decisions.
- Tell a caregiver what kinds of care and support your child needs.
- Create a plan that helps your child advocate for themselves with doctors or school meetings.
- Build good training materials for new caregivers.
- Manage your child’s finances.