Turning 18, Guardianship & Other Options

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Turning 18

An 18-year-old is an adult and presumed to be able to handle his or her own affairs unless a legal proceeding gives some or all the responsibility for him or her to a parent or guardian.

An 18 year old person has more rights, more risks and more responsibilities.

There are several things that change when youth turn 18:

1. When they turn 18, young people acquire the rights and access to records that their parents or guardian had exercised, including:

  • the right to be notified and consent to evaluations;
  • the right to invite additional participants to IEP meetings;
  • the right to be notified and consent to specialized education and related services. Parents are still notified of meetings regarding their child’s education, even after he or she turns 18, but the rights of the parent are transferred to the student.
  • Under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, an 18-year- old can give his or her parents or other adults access to educational records by signing a release.

2. Young people who received Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for a disability may lose them as adults, depending on the nature of their disabilities. An 18-year-old receiving SSI benefits should expect to have his or her eligibility re-determined — using a different, adult disability standard — in the month before the 18th birthday.

3. The health insurance may change. Florida law requires dependent coverage to be offered until the dependent is age 30. Adults whose health insurance covers youth should check their policies.

4. An 18-year-old is old enough to vote. Americans may vote at age 18 unless declared incompetent by a court of law. To register in Florida, one must turn 18 by Election Day and be a U.S. citizen and a legal resident of the county in which one plans to vote. Young people are eligible to register to vote at age 16, or anytime thereafter. Voter registration forms are available at many government offices, and from county supervisors of elections. Voting is an important way to have a say about the laws and policies that affect you.

See our Voting Rights topic for more information about voting rights.

5. Young men are required to register for military service. All males are required to register with the Selective Service within 30 days of turning 18 unless institutionalized or hospitalized.

Types of Guardianship under Florida Law

What is Guardianship?

Guardianship removes an adult’s right to make decisions about the areas of his or her life that a court has decided the person is not competent to make their own decisions about. The law refers to a person for whom a guardian has been appointed as a “ward” of that guardian.

Each of Florida’s guardianship statutes require that even when a right has been taken from an individual and given to a guardian or guardian advocate, that guardian is still required, to the extent possible, to consider the individual’s wishes and to allow the individual to participate in decisions affecting their life.

Whether an individual can give consent to a decision depends on the complexity and the seriousness of the decision to be made. Those who can recognize their own need for help with decision-making may not require guardianship, but only advice, information, and assurance when evaluating other options that may be available rather than pursuing guardianship. There are ALTERNATIVES to guardianship that can serve to meet these needs.

Below are the types of guardianship that exist under Florida law. See the next tab for more information on alternatives to guardianship.

Full (Plenary) Guardianship, Florida Statute 744.102 (8)(b)

A person(s) is appointed by the court to exercise all delegable legal rights and powers of the person who has a disability. It requires that there be an adjudication of the person as incapable of handling any personal decisions, money and property; i.e., what the Florida law once called incompetent and now calls incapacitated. Few people require this type of guardianship.

Guardian Advocate, Florida Statute 393.12 or Limited Guardianship, Florida Statute 744.102(8)(a) are preferred as less restrictive alternatives to full guardianship.

Limited Guardianship, Florida Statute 744.102 (8)(a)

A person(s) is appointed to exercise only specified rights and powers which are named by the court. A limited guardianship occurs when the court has found that the individual is partially incapacitated and lacks the capacity to make some, but not all, of the decisions necessary to care for his/her person or property.

Emergency Temporary Guardianship, Florida Statute 744.3031

A temporary guardian may be appointed for the person or property, or both, for a person who is alleged to be incapacitated, prior to the appointment of a full guardian. A temporary guardian may be appointed only after a petition for incapacity has been filed. In order to appoint a temporary guardian, the court must find specifically that there appears to be imminent danger that the physical or mental health or safety of the person will be seriously impaired or that their property is in danger of being wasted, misappropriated, or lost unless immediate action is taken.

Voluntary Guardianship, Florida Statute 744.341

If the court determines that the individual is not incapacitated, and the individual files a voluntary petition for guardianship, the court may appoint a guardian or co-guardians of the property of a person who, though otherwise mentally competent, is unable to manage property. A voluntary guardianship may be terminated by the ward.

Preneed Guardian, Florida Statute 744.3045

An adult who is competent may designate a person to serve as his or her guardian in the event that he or she becomes incapacitated in the future.

Guardian Advocate (Mental Health) Florida Statute 394.4598

The court may appoint a guardian advocate for a patient deemed incompetent to consent to mental health treatment.

Guardian Advocate (Developmental Disabilities) Florida Statute 744.3085

Guardian advocates assist persons with developmental disabilities. They may be appointed by the circuit court under this statute, or by the probate court under Florida Statute 393.12.

Guardian Advocate (Developmental Disabilities) Florida Statute 393.12

A Probate court may appoint a guardian advocate without an adjunction of incapacity if the person lacks the capacity to make some, but not all, of the decisions necessary to care for his/her person, property or estate. Any interested person may petition for the appointment of a guardian advocate.  The ward may also voluntarily petition. Only those rights the person cannot manage are removed.

The four areas that some people with developmental disabilities may have difficulty handling, or for which society insists they have a substitute decision maker are:

  • Giving informed consent for medical, dental and surgical procedures
  • Managing money and/or property
  • Applying for governmental benefits or entitlements
  • Deciding on residential choices

There are important procedural differences between a Limited Guardianship under Chapter 744 and Guardian Advocacy under Chapter 393. Chapter 744 requires a three member examining committee to make a recommendation that the person lacks certain capacities before a court can order appointment of a guardian. Under Chapter 744, the examiners may have little or no expertise in disability, and the process may be much more time consuming and expensive for the petitioner. On the other hand, the potential ward has due process protections that do not exist under Chapter 393. Under Chapter 393, there is no requirement for an examining committee to be appointed, or for any court finding of incapacity of the ward before a guardian advocate is appointed. Instead, the Court may look at the individual’s support plan, their IEP or other documents to determine the level of disability and need for assistance.

Under either procedure, once a guardianship is established, the bottom line is the same. The individual loses their right to make important decisions about key aspects of their own life.

Alternatives to Guardianship

Family and Friends

Sometimes attentive support from family and friends can be enough to assist the person to manage his own personal and financial affairs.

Advance Directives

This is a document that expresses a person’s desires concerning healthcare, or other affairs. As the term indicates, this option is written in advance of the need.  The person must be competent at the time he or she signs the directive and capable of giving informed consent. Examples of these directives include:

  • Durable Power of Attorney

    This legal document gives the designated person the legal authority to make decisions of specific matters for the person who created it.  A DURABLE power of attorney can be exercised until the death of the person who gave it, even if the person becomes incapacitated.

  • Living Will

    A legal document that directs the providing, withholding, or withdrawal of life-prolonging medical procedures if you are unable to make your own decisions and you have a terminal illness or are in a persistent vegetative state.

  • Health Care Surrogate

    A written document naming another person as your representative to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them yourself.  You can include instructions about any treatment you want or do not want, similar to a living will.  You can also designate an alternative surrogate.  If you designate a health care surrogate and alternate be sure to ask them if they agree to take this responsibility, discuss how you would like matters handled, and give them a copy of the document.

It is important that any advance directive be witnessed by at least two individuals.  Laws on health care advance directives are in Chapter 765 of the Florida Statutes (available at your local library or at  www.leg.state.fl.us).