birthday cake with lit candles for 18th celebration.

5 Things to Think About When Your Child With Special Needs Turns 18

A child’s 18th birthday is an exciting occasion for both themselves and their parents. In the U.S., most children are given adult status at 18, meaning they become legally responsible and thus able to make their own choices without parental permission. 

For a special-needs child, turning 18 is even more significant, but not necessarily in the same exciting way, as their transition into adulthood may change the types of services and benefits they are eligible to receive. Understanding those changes before they come will help make the transition into adulthood easier. 

5 Things to Be Aware Of

The unique needs of a person with a disability won’t suddenly change when they turn 18, of course, but how those needs are met certainly can. With that being said, keeping the following factors in mind will help you and your child prepare for their important milestone:

1. Changes in Supplemental Security Income

Children whose families meet certain financial qualifications can receive monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments to help pay for their care. 

When a special-needs child turns 18, though, they may or may not continue to qualify for SSI; the Social Security Administration will review the new adult’s eligibility based on the rules established for adults. 

2. Decision Making

A parent may not be able to continue making certain decisions for a special needs child after they turn 18, but there are ways a parent can stay involved.

One such way is for the parent to become a representative payee, an individual who receives and manages Social Security benefits on behalf of one who is incapable of overseeing their own finances. 

Guardianship is another way to remain involved in making decisions for an adult child. Gaining guardianship requires going to court, meaning it may be necessary to consult with an attorney. 

3. Support for Living Arrangements

If your special-needs child is already excited to move out on their own, you’ll both be happy to learn that they may qualify for assistance with living arrangements depending on the services they are receiving.

Other forms of support that may have been received at school, such as therapy services, could now be received privately through a Medicaid Waiver; respite services may also be available.

Nevertheless, before making definitive plans about living arrangements, be certain you understand all the benefits that will be available for your adult child after high school.

4. Educational Transitions

Just like their peers, your special-needs child may be excited about their educational options after graduating from high school, perhaps intending to pursue a diploma in college or trade programs or earn a certificate in a transitional program. 

Students with special needs can continue high school for the purpose of earning a diploma even after their senior year; in most cases, they can remain in school until the age of 21 or 22, depending on the state. 

For children who are not interested in further education, employment through Local Vocational Rehabilitation Services may be a better fit. Speak with your child’s teachers, therapist, or case worker to learn more about their options. 

5. Financial Protection

There are many programs designed to help provide for the financial needs of an adult child with special needs. You might consider setting up a special needs trust in your estate planning or depositing funds for their future needs into an Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account, which provides your child with the opportunity to practice some financial independence and learn how to manage their own money without the risk of financial abuse or significant losses. 

What comes next?

These aspects cover only some of the new opportunities that will open up to your child as they turn 18, and as the parent of an adult with disabilities, your responsibilities will change as well. 

Navigating the next chapter of your journey together can be made easier with the right guidance. Learn how you can continue to support your child through careful estate planning by contacting OC Wills and Trusts in Orange County, CA, today.

Brian Chew, the managing partner of OC Wills & Trust Attorneys, has extensive experience in the areas of estate planning, asset protection planning, business succession planning, long-term care planning, and veterans’ benefits. By devoting his practice to estate planning matters, he has founded a firm that strives to provide exceptional service to their clients by working closely with individuals and their families to create comprehensive and customized estate plans. For the past twenty five years, Brian has served thousands of clients in the matters of estate planning, wills and trusts. If you have any questions about this article, you can reach Brian Chew here.