Planning for Future Care of Special Needs Children

January 15, 2014

When kids turn 18, it can be a whole new world of opportunity for them. But when that child has a disability, parents are faced with some serious decisions about the future.

In July, Gina Yoder's autistic son, Ben, will become a legal adult. Yoder is in the process of setting up guardianship and conservatorship for him.

"It's not pleasant to think you have to have guardianship of your adult child," said Yoder. "It's not your dream. Your dream is that your children will grow up and be able to handle their own affairs."

But Yoder says it's necessary because she fears she and her husband could lose access to school and medical information once he turns 18.

"To make sure he's protected and that we're able to be kept in the loop, this is something that needs to be done," she said.

Becoming Ben's guardian and conservator will legally allow Yoder to handle her son's lifecare and monetary affairs, even after he becomes of age.

Yoder says the decision is not permanent, however. Ben is continually acquiring skills. She believes in the future, guardianship may no longer be needed.

Attorney Neal Walters says parents are not required to set up guardianship for their children with disabilities as soon as they turn 18.

"Guardianship can be necessary in cases, but it really is a big restriction," said attorney Neal Walters. "You can't vote, you can't do all kinds of things. It is sort of like being reduced to a child again, so I always encourage people to hold off until they absolutely have to."

Walters facilitated a free workshop Wednesday night at the Virginia Institute of Autism. He not only knows the law, he also knows what these parents are going through. His 19-year-old son has a disability.

Walters answered parents' questions, helping them navigate the complicated legal landscape at this pivotal point in their children's lives.

"I think all of us sort of have this hope that everything will turn out great," said Walters. "It's human nature to not want to think about unpleasant things and certainly not to act on unpleasant things until you have to."

Walters also discussed special needs trusts and how to effectively set them up so people with special needs still receive all the benefits they are entitled to. He also reviewed the responsibilities of trustees and the importance of selecting the right person for the job.

"It's important for financial planning and benefit planning to start thinking early," said Walters.

Walters will lead another workshop Friday, January 17 at the Virginia Institute of Autism. The second session will also cover special needs trusts and guardianships. The workshop starts at 11 a.m. To RSVP, call Hilary Nagel at 434-923-8252 or email

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