When a developmentally disabled child turns 18, under the law they are adults and are therefore legally able to make their own decisions. Unfortunately, many developmentally disabled children cannot make their own decisions. After the child’s 18th birthday, many parents are told by care providers, Regional Centers, and physicians that they (the parents) are not able to make medical decisions for their child (or discuss a medical issue with the physician); they are no longer able to access their adult child’s medical and educational records, or determine where their child will live.
Does the now adult child realize they have these powers or does “someone” come to the home and ask the child to make these decisions? Of course not, but this is an extremely frustrating situation for the parents because (1) for the past 18 years they have been making all decisions for their child, (2) their child (despite being 18 years old and legally an adult) cannot not make or participate in making important decisions regarding their health, education and welfare, (3) the parents no longer have the ability to assist their child without court involvement.
In California, there is a “limited” Conservatorship specifically for adults with a developmental disability, as defined in California law. The purpose of limited conservatorship is to protect adults with developmental disabilities from harm or exploitation while allowing for the development of maximum self-reliance and independence.
A limited conservatorship is a court-approved, legal relationship between a competent adult (Conservator) and an adult with a developmental disability (Conservatee), which gives the Conservator a defined degree of authority and duty to act on behalf of the Conservatee in making decisions affecting the Conservatee’s life.
The protection is considered "limited" because the Conservator is given authority to make decisions only in areas where the court believes the disabled person needs help. Therefore, the judge can make a separate decision (on a case by case basis) about whether the Conservator will have any (or all) of the following seven rights:
- The right to determine where and with whom the Conservatee lives;
- The right to access the Conservatee‘s confidential (educational, medical, etc.) records;
- To give or withhold consent to the Conservatee’s marriage;
- To sign all contracts on behalf of the Conservatee;
- To give or withhold consent to the Conservatee’s medical treatment;
- To control the Conservatee’s social or sexual contacts; and
- To make decisions regarding the Conservatee’s education.
A limited Conservatorship exists for the duration of the Conservatee’s life or until the Court determines that the conservatorship is no longer necessary. If a Conservator passes away, a Petition will have to be filed with the Court, so that the Court may appoint a successor Conservator. This is the case even when a Co-Conservator passes away, the surviving Co-Conservator also needs to file a Petition with the Court allowing them to act alone (or with someone else) as Conservator.
A limited conservatorship is a very useful tool for parents of a developmentally disabled adult child, because it allows them to continue making important (and not so important) decisions for their child, to have the ability to advocate for their child and to protect their child from others who may not have their child's best interest at heart.