Life is full of decisions – about health care, money, housing, school and more. When your child turns age 18, they can legally make these decisions for themselves. If they aren’t ready to do this on their own, parents can look at legal options to help. The options you choose will depend on your child’s needs and abilities.
This page covers two important legal options: supported decision-making and power of attorney. See our pages on Legal Options for Age 18 and Beyond and on legal tools to learn about other options, such as guardianship and wills and trusts.
Supported decision-making is a way for your child to make their own life decisions, big and small. It can be used by any adult with a disability. Your child can ask someone they trust, such as you, another family member or a friend, to be their supporter. The supporter helps your child think about options, understand risks, make a decision and communicate it to others. Your child’s supporter can see private medical, educational, financial and other information. With that information, they can work with your child to make a good decision they both understand.
In 2015, Texas became the first state to have supported decision-making as a legal option. Supported decision-making allows your child to keep more of their legal rights and independence than legal guardianship.
A supported decision-making agreement is something that you and your child can put together yourselves. Below is more information to help you that was created by lawyers and other experts. Your child has to agree on their own to sign a supported decision-making agreement without anyone telling them to do so.
To make a supported decision-making agreement:
This toolkit by The Arc of Texas has information and supported decision-making forms you can use.
There is also a toolkit by Disability Rights Texas with a worksheet, forms and things for your child – and their supporter – to consider.
Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities also has information and forms on supported decision-making.
To learn more or get help with a supported decision-making agreement, call The Arc of Texas at 800-252-9729 or Disability Rights Texas at 800-252-9108. You can also go to intake.DRTx.org to ask for help.
A power of attorney can help you and your child share control over life decisions. Your child can allow you to have the legal power to make decisions for them if they cannot.
There are different types of power of attorney agreements. A durable power of attorney can give you the legal power to do certain things for your child. 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 to use a power of attorney.
Here are three power of attorney choices:
There can also be a power of attorney signed for only a certain period of time.
Most power of attorney documents start as soon as they are signed. A “springing” power of attorney allows planning for the future. This is something that your child can sign now so that you can make decisions later – if their disability or special health care needs change and they are “incapacitated” or can no longer make their own decisions.
A power of attorney can be a powerful tool. Having one in place can:
It’s usually a good idea to work with a lawyer who understands disability issues. There might be community organizations that can help with legal costs. You could also set one up yourself using free online tools. But be careful. Free online tools are not created with your family’s unique situation in mind.
Texas Law Help has more information on powers of attorney and forms. Legal Beagle has a list of things to get ready for a visit with a lawyer. This includes information on your child’s diagnosis, special health care needs, medications and more.
This toolkit by Disability Rights Texas has power of attorney information in Section 4 and forms at the end.
To set up a power of attorney that the court recognizes:
If your child cannot show that they understand what’s in the document and what it means, a power of attorney is not a choice for your child.
Sometimes, parents and others think that guardianship is the only choice for their adult child with a disability. For some families, guardianship is the best option. But, supported decision-making agreements and a power of attorney are two other options that might be able to give your child more independence and choice.
For more, see Section 7 in this Disability Rights Texas toolkit.