When children with developmental disabilities reach age 18, they become “adults” in the eyes of the law. Parents no longer may legally make financial and health care decisions for their adult children. If the developmental disability is severe enough to prevent the adult child from caring for him or herself, the parents must apply to become their child’s legal guardian in order to continue making important decisions for their developmentally disabled child – such as consenting to medical, dental, and surgical procedures; managing money or property; applying for governmental benefits and entitlements; and deciding on residential choices.
Fortunately, Chapter 393 of the Florida Statutes is specifically designed to meet the unique needs of persons with developmental disabilities. The person who would be appointed to care for an adult with developmental disabilities is called a “guardian advocate.” Even though the term is different from the term “guardian” as used in Chapter 744 of the Florida Statutes, the authority given by the court to each is the same. However, Chapter 393 is less restrictive, less costly and much preferred in order to care for persons with developmental disabilities.
Because of the streamlined process, guardian advocacy proceedings are consuming less court time and thereby reducing attorney’s fees. For example, there is no need to pay for an examining committee of three professionals, as is required in Chapter 744. The statute does not require a separate hearing to determine incapacity and there is no adjudication of incapacity. Existing professional evaluations and plans identifying needs may be used to identify rights which the developmentally disabled individual cannot handle. The judge will review the reports, evaluations and support plans and then appoint a guardian advocate to perform only those functions that the person is unable to perform. All of those rights that the developmentally disabled person cannot manage will be given to the guardian advocate to handle.
We are fortunate to have this streamlined guardian advocate procedure available in Florida. Parents with developmentally disabled children should be aware of this statute and plan ahead for when a child with developmental disability reaches 18 and becomes an “adult.” Cramer Law Center has helped many persons through the guardian advocate process and is available to help others through the process.