Special Needs Child becoming an Adult Guardianship


Is your Special Needs child becoming an Adult and needs an Adult Guardianship?

In Arizona you can apply for an Adult Guardianship for your Special Needs child as early as 17.5 years of age. Once a child becomes 18 years of age, they are considered emancipated children. As the special needs person becomes an adult they are now placed in a position where they will no longer be able to rely on their parents to make medical decisions, personal care decisions and financial decisions for themselves.  Because they are already incapacitated, they are unable to execute a power of attorney naming another adult to make their decisions for them while they are alive. As such the parent is placed in the difficult position of not being able to act on their special needs child behalf.


When your child turns 18: Special Needs Child to Adult Guardianship Process

How soon can I file the Petition for Adult Guardianship for my 17 year old special needs child?

The Adult Guardianship process starts with the Petitioner filing a Petition for Adult Guardianship. In most cases, the biological parents of the child file a joint Petition for Adult Guardianship or 1 parent files the Petition and the other Parent is notified of the hearing. The Petition for Adult Guardianship can be filed as soon as the child is 17.5 years of age or older. Filing the Petition for Adult Guardianship for your special needs child ensures fluidity of care because the Court generally schedules the guardianship hearing very close to the child’s 18th birthday


Caring for your special needs child during their early adult years is both challenging and rewarding. For some individuals caring for their adult children, it is an opportunity to continue all the love and care of their child when they are adults that they enjoyed when they were children.


After the Petition for Adult Guardianship is filed, the adult child must be put on notice by being properly served with a process server that a Petition has been filed. This seems strange to most parents because the child has an impairment and is special needs and will most likely not understand the documents that are served upon them. However, every adult, once emancipated, gains all of their rights as an adult. Essentially the guardianship process is a request to the Court to suspend some of those rights and grant them back to the Petitioner which is in most cases the adult child’s parent. The Court finds that it’s in the adult’s best interests to grant the right to make medical decisions, financial decisions and even to admit the adult to a mental institution for care to the Petitioner. The right to vote and to obtain a driver’s license may be suspended in most circumstances due to the adult’s impairment.


Is an Attorney and Investigator required in an Adult Guardianship proceeding?

After the Petition for Adult Guardianship is filed, the Court schedules a hearing and appoints an attorney to represent the adult child as it is assumed that the adult child is incapacitated and cannot defend him or herself in a guardianship proceeding. The attorney is acting in the adult child’s best interests as well and advocates on behalf of the adult child with respect to whether he or she needs a guardian.  An investigator is also appointed and the investigator’s role is to ensure that the Petitioner is the appropriate person to be appointed guardian. An investigation may include a visit to the home of the adult child and a conversation with the Petitioners, the adult child and or any other interested persons listed in the Petition.  Finally, the Physician named in the Petition is appointed and the Physician is responsible for completing a Physician’s Report and filing it with the Court.  The Attorney, Investigator and Physician are acting in the best interests of the adult child as suspending the rights of an adult is a matter that deserves the highest of scrutiny.


Is Establishing Guardianship for an Adult in the Adult’s best Interests?

In Arizona, the court can appoint a guardian for an adult who cannot make decisions because of mental or physical illness, disability, or alcohol or drug abuse. Arizona law refers to the person as an “incapacitated person.” Once a guardian is appointed, the person becomes a “ward” of the guardian. The guardian becomes responsible for housing, medical care, food, clothing, and social activities. The relationship established between the guardian and the ward is sometimes characterized as being similar to a parent-child relationship. And just as in that relationship, the decisions made for the incapacitated person must be in their best interests. According to the Judicial Branch of Arizona, once an adult becomes a “ward” they cannot vote, marry, get a driver’s license, buy property, use a credit card, or take out a loan.


The process for court appointment of a guardian is outlined in Arizona Revised Statutes 14-5303. The petition will include information necessary for the court to make an informed decision on what will be in the best interests of the individual in question. The incapacitated person can request a guardian or any person interested in their affairs can make a request for guardianship. In the petition you must include a statement that includes what authority the guardian will be granted. Guardianship can be limited or general. When guardianship is limited, you will state what specific powers are requested. You will also state whether or not the guardian can be given authority to withhold or withdraw life sustaining medical treatment. In addition, the court requests a general statement of the property and income of the person for whom guardianship is sought.


According to Arizona law, once a petition for guardianship is filed, the court sets a hearing date. The court relies on the written report that will include medical information and a comprehensive assessment listing any functional impairments of the person. This assessment should include information about how the functional impairments may prevent the person from receiving or evaluating information in making decisions or in communicating informed decisions. In addition the report includes information about what daily tasks the individual is capable of performing without direction or with minimal direction. A list of all medications, dosages, and their effects on the person is also part of the report, as well as any prognosis for improvement.


While trying to make the decision to establish guardianship of an adult child can be stressful, our goal is to do everything we can to make the actual legal process of establishing guardianship as easy as possible. We do more than just complete the forms. We provide complete legal case management document preparation services. We are certified in Arizona as legal document preparers. If you are looking for a Tucson Paralegal, Phoenix Paralegal or Mesa Paralegal to prepare your legal guardianship documents, call us today for your consultation on how to establish guardianship for your adult child.  Starting early is the key to success. If your child is 17.5 years old and you are ready to begin the process, we’re ready to help you.



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