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Gary Iler is a resident of Summit County in Ohio. He and his wife Maureen have a daughter, currently twenty-six years old, who has a dual diagnosis of autism and cognitive disability. Gary will discuss issues related to guardianship of an adult with a disability.

Should I consider getting guardianship for my disabled child?

Although it’s not a legal requirement to get guardianship over an individual with a disability, and where it’s a physical disability and the individual has the mental capacity to make informed decisions on their own, it’s probably not necessary. But in the case of a mental disability, where the individual may or may not be able to make an informed decision about their wellbeing, I strongly suggest that the parents go after guardianship. Let me give you an example why, at age eighteen an individual is considered and adult. Therefore, that person will make their own decisions regarding their wellbeing. Let’s say for example the individual needs emergency medical care, like a surgery, well if the person is his or her own guardian, with a mental disability, the shear thought of surgery may make that person say, I don’t want to do it, and it may be the only thing that’s going to safe that person’s life. If the parents however have guardianship, the hospitals, the doctors, will turn to them for a decision. And I think the parents in this case will be in a better position to make an informed decision as to whether that person should or should not have that medical care. For me it’s critical that the parents have guardianship or someone has guardianship over that person.

How would one go about obtaining guardianship?

I suggest you retain a lawyer who specializes in what we call probate law. It’s not inexpensive; it’s going to be at least several hundred dollars, maybe even five hundred dollars, depending on where you live. The attorney will know the process of how guardianship flows. The attorney will gather the documents that are necessary, they’ll present them to the probate court, they’ll set up appointments and things like that. Once the file is complete and the probate court has it, they you get to go to a judge or magistrate. The probate court will probably send an investigator out to the individual’s home, interview the parents, look at the house to make sure it’s acceptable, and ask any other information they may need, or get any more documents. But if the home’s presentable and everything’s fine, the investigator will go back to the probate court and tell the judge, O.K. the file’s complete and the home is acceptable. At that point the lawyer will schedule the formal meeting for guardianship with the probate judge or the magistrate. This meeting can be a little intimidating for the parents in this case. At some point during the process the judge or the magistrate may ask you to declare the individual incompetent to make decisions on their own behalf, this is sometimes tough, extremely tough for a parent to do. But the reason for guardianship is the individual is in fact incompetent to make their own decisions. So you make that declaration, yes my child is incompetent to make their own decisions. If everybody is satisfied with that, the file’s complete then the probate judge will approve guardianship. A few weeks later you’ll get a court document that says Gary Idler is the guardian for his daughter. After that, depending on the county you live in, once a year, once every two years, you’ll have to fill out a report that ask just a few questions, basically should guardianship continue? The only extra thing that needs done, a medical professional, or your MRDD team representative has to sign off on that document saying I agree that guardianship is still appropriate and it should continue. Get that report complete, you mail it in, that’s typically the last thing you hear.