Making sure that our children with disabilities or special health care needs are taken care of often takes the bulk of our time, energy, and attention. It can be hard to even think about times when our children might need more help and protection than we will be able to give them.
Fortunately, there are certain legal tools and documents that 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. On this page we have a brief description of different tools you might want to use. For more details, or advice related to your specific situation, we recommend talking to your own lawyer or financial advisor
Your Legal Tools
- Wills and trusts let you make sure 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 a family member, or a friend) to be their supporter. This is someone who helps your child think about options, understand risks, make a decision, and communicate it 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.
- 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, and more. Your child must be able to understand what it means to sign a contract in order 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 that 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.
- A representative payee manages Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefit payments for another person. Your child can ask for you to be their representative payee, so that you can help them manage 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 (LOI) 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 control over areas of your adult child’s life they are not able to safely manage on their own. The court system grants and supervises guardianships.
Creating a Supported Decision Making Agreement, Powers of Attorney and a Living Will
- You can find forms online to help you write these. You can find supported decision making forms from The Arc of Texas (in English) and Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (in English). You can also search for power of attorney forms and living wills to get ideas. But be very careful about using Internet power of attorney and will documents. These were not created with your family’s unique requirements in mind. If you already work with a lawyer, they might have standard forms to 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 can not show that they understand what the documents mean then this is not a legal option for your child.
- To know when and how to use a power of attorney or guardianship, see our page about Legal Options for Age 18 and Beyond.
Having the Right Legal Tools in Place Can Help You
- Make sure your child stays eligible 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 in school meetings.
- Build good training materials for new caregivers.
- Manage your child’s finances.