Did she break the law? Join a biker gang and shoot up a parking lot down in Texas? Leave wet towels on the floor too many times? Nope, nothing like that. She’s just turning 18 next month. When you have a child with severe special needs and said kiddo turns 18 and becomes a legal adult in the eyes of the law, you need to either become their legal guardian or assign a legal guardian for them.
“Why, Al? I’m already their Mom/Dad..I’m already their legal guardian. That’s not going to change, just because my kid turns 18. He/she is still going to live at home with me, go to school..nothing’s changing but their age”.
This is true, but here’s the deal. The minute that child turns 18, your authority as a parent gets tossed out the window. Doctors, banks, schools..your input is no longer valid because now your child is an adult. Take Hallee for example. Can Hallee handle money? Can she drive a car, get herself to and from school? Appointments? Can she live by herself? Shop? Cook meals? Take needed medications? Of course not. None of these things are realistic for Hal, and so she needs a guardian to handle these things for her. That would be moi.
Also, it should go without saying that there are some spectacularly rotten people out there who take advantage of folks like Hallee, for their social security disability money, their medications, bank accounts, homes and sometimes worse. Abuse is unfortunately a very real issue for people with disabilities and it can come in many forms if people aren’t able to protect themselves.
It did take a good bit of time to wrap my head around the idea of having to petition a court to give me guardianship of my own daughter as she becomes a legal adult. But of course it’s in her best interest, as she can’t do these things for herself and as her legal guardian, I will still have the power to make the decisions for her that need to be made on a daily basis.
With the help of our wonderful case manager Jess from UCP of Maine, we started down this road more than a year ago, in order to make sure Hallee had a smooth transition with everything from childhood to adult services, school IEP’s, healthcare options and lots more. I would have been lost without her guidance.
About 3-4 months away from your child’s 18th birthday, you have to file for guardianship. Here in Bangor it has to be done at the Penobscot County Probate Court on Hammond Street. Be prepared for a LOT of paperwork that has to be sent out and returned to you before you can file it. Doctors, your child’s other parent, etc. You need to explain why this person is not able to care for themselves and need guardianship. What your plans for the person’s future are. How does that person function? So. Much. Paper. But for a seasoned autism mom…just another day at the office. You first pick up the paperwork at the probate offices and after getting them all filled out, you can return and file them. There was a $98 filing fee.
The lovely women at the the probate office let me know that I would be hearing from a Court Visitor. This person would come to our home, interview Hallee & I and make sure that she was in a safe place where her needs would be met, now and in the future. This means healthcare needs, financial needs, emotional (socialization, things Hal loves to do), shelter, all of it. While there, they Court Visitor also has to serve your child with the papers stating that you are seeking guardianship. The women at probate court were very understanding when I explained that Hallee would have no idea what it was or what to do with it, and may or may not be very informative at any kind of interview. They explained that the woman they were recommending was very good with people like Hallee and would make it very easy for her.
There is quite a large fee for the Court Visitor, but since it’s being requested by the court for for the “incapacitated” person, you can request that the cost be covered by the courts, which I did, since Hallee is a 17 year old student, not an adult with a job and a bank account. It was bizarre not to pull out the bank card for something my child needed. But for the first time, she wasn’t being considered my child, she was being considered an incapacitated adult. Gah.
In about 2 weeks, we got a letter stating the date and time of our home visit. This is where my panic set it. What if the house isn’t clean enough? Will she check Hallee’s dresser drawers? Do I need to fold her underwear? Dust the curtain rods? I bet she’ll look at the tops of the ceiling fan blades..oh crap the ceiling fan blaaaaaaaaaaades… For an obsessive worrier like myself, this was a panic-attack waiting to happen. Luckily, Mark is pretty good and leveling out my crazy and hauled me down out of my OCD tree.
On the big day, Hallee had to be kept home from school, which was really upsetting for her. She had already missed one day of school due to a 3 day weekend that week and was off kilter to begin with. This is a child who lives and dies be a regular routine and schedule. Even one day off-schedule really discombobulates her. When our Visitor arrived, all I really had to do was sit back and just let Hallee be…..Hallee. She was perseverating like crazy, lots of repetition, lots of demands to go back to a previous conversation. Our Visitor was a pro, though, and handled Hallee with ease once she got the lay of the land. I feel like we were extremely blessed to have someone who really seemed to “get” Hallee and I think Hal felt it, too.
It was a fairly quick visit and no one checked to see if the undies were folded. (They were) A week or so later, we got a copy of our Visitor’s report to the court that was both lovely and heartbreaking. She wrote very kindly of Hallee and I, was very positive about recommending me as Hallee’s legal guardian. The sad part was reading a report that says your baby needs guardianship for all the listed reasons. I know the reasons, I’ve always known them. But seeing it written down in a report by someone else is a little hard on the heart just the same.
Our Visitor also requested that Hallee not have to come with me on our court date later in the month because it would be way too stressful for her. I could kiss that woman for that little kindness. Getting Hallee in there would be a nightmare of anxiety and frustration for her and the Visitor recognized that. So at the end of this month, I’ll go to court, and God willing and the creek don’t rise, be given guardianship of my beautiful girl and be able to continue to protect her like Mama’s do.