If you have an adult child with special needs, you need to get court ordered guardianship.

If you have a special needs adult child in Arizona, you need to get court appointed as that special needs adult child’s Arizona guardian.  This page will focus on how things are done in Maricopa County.

Why Do You Need Adult Guardianship for Your Special Needs Child in Arizona?

It probably seems kind of ridiculous that in Arizona, as the parent(s) of a special needs adult child, you need to be named the court-ordered guardian(s) in order to continue acting as your child’s parent(s).

All adults have privacy rights. Your special needs adult child has those rights as well. This is why, in Arizona, you need a court-ordered guardianship. You are “taking away” your child’s privacy rights (in order to care for his/her special needs).

The guardianship system is designed to support your desire to serve as guardian.  As long as you are a decent human being, who has your child’s best interest at heart, you will be set.

The Process?

You file Arizona guardianship documents with the Maricopa County Superior Court.

These papers can be found online here, or you can get a lawyer, (like me) to prepare the papers for you. There are 3 sets of forms that get filed.  The initial set gets the guardianship going.  The second set usually includes the Orders for the court to sign appointing you as guardian.  The third set usually includes the form that proves that your child was personally served with the documents and the Letters appointing you as guardian.  I call the Letters your “golden ticket”.  The Letters will be what you show other people to prove you have authority as guardian.  The Letters stay valid for the rest of your life or the rest of your child’s life.

A court hearing for the Arizona guardianship within 45 days.

There is a mandatory 45 day waiting period between when you file guardianship documents with the court and when you will attend a court hearing.

Several things happen while you are waiting for the court hearing:

a.  You will complete the training on Arizona guardianships hereThis training takes at most 1 hour.  It only requires you to watch or read information about being a guardian.  It is actually very helpful.

b.  A process server will serve the papers on your special needs adult child. I know; even if your child has no clue what is going on, this is an Arizona guardianship requirement.

c. The court investigator will meet you and/or your child.  This is a social worker from the court, who makes sure you are not trying to take advantage of your special needs adult child.  Depending on the court investigator’s schedule and personal preference, he/she may meet your child at school or at your home.

d. A lawyer will be appointed to represent your child.  Chances are, the lawyer will ask to meet your child at the actual court hearing rather than making a home visit.

The actual court hearing for the Arizona guardianship takes about 8 minutes.

It is reasonably informal. The purpose of the court hearing is to confirm that you want to be guardian(s) for your special needs adult child and you understand the responsibilities. Everyone worries a lot about the court hearing.  Having said that, I have never had a client walk out of the hearing and say anything different than “hey, that really wasn’t too bad”.  Try really hard not to fret too much about the hearing.

You will be appointed as Arizona guardian(s).

The judge will sign the orders appointing you as guardian at the court hearing itself. Letters appointing you, as guardian, will be issued that day.  I recommend that my clients keep a copy of the Letters with them at all times and the original somewhere safe.  Your child’s school and doctors would love a copy of the Letters.

Fees Can Be Waived

If your special needs adult child receives governmental benefits or you believe he/she will receive them in the future,  the court fees ($668 July 2017) may be waived. The fee for the attorney appointed for your child may be waived as well.

NOTE:  You can file for a guardianship when your special needs child turns 17.5 years old.  You can get everything done before he/she turns 18.  The guardianship orders will say that you are officially the guardian on the child’s 18th birthday.  You do not need to go to court twice.

Need a Special Needs Trust?

You may want to consider adding a Special Needs Trust to your estate planning documents. In a nutshell, it says that money for your special needs adult child should be used for his/her benefit without messing up his/her governmental benefits.

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