October 21, 2018

Navigating the process of conservatorship

For a parent who has been caring for a child with special needs, it can be jarring to realize that at age 18, the child is considered a legal adult, whether or not he can sign his own name or understand the value of a dollar.

That means parents have no legal rights to communicate with doctors or principals on behalf of the child, can’t authorize a medical procedure, and the child is free to sign up for a credit card or a cell phone, or to get married.

To retain their rights, a parent needs to become the child’s conservator — a process that is both costly and daunting.

“Oftentimes it’s a shock to them. They’ve been caring for their children 24/7 since they were born, and now they don’t understand why they need permission to do that,” says Yolande Erickson, a conservatorship attorney with Bet Tzedek Legal Services. “It can be very frightening — someone is going to judge you and decide whether you are appropriate to continue caring for your child.”