My Child With Disabilities is Turning 18, What Steps do I Need to Consider?

In the United States, when a child turns 18 they become an adult who is legally responsible for their choices and actions and parents lose the ability to make decisions for their adult child. However, the law provides exceptions for persons who have disabilities that impact their ability to care for themselves, hold a job to earn sufficient income to provide for their needs, and make decisions for their future.

Being Prepared When Your Child With Disabilities Turns 18 

As the parent of a child with special needs, you must address many issues not faced by other families. For example, when your child turns 18, he or she may still be enrolled in school for several more years while other 18-year olds are starting work or college.

As law practice limited to special needs planning, we focus on the financial and legal issues you will face when your child with special needs turns 18 and beyond. While you’ll have many important matters to address, here are five basic issues to consider at this time.

1) Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Standards Change – If your child is already receiving SSI benefits, or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) based upon a parent’s work record, those benefits will be automatically reviewed upon his or her 18th birthday because the SSI standards change.

The Social Security Administration defines disability as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”

2) SSI Income Requirements Change – When a minor applies for SSI benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) attributes part of both parents’ income to the child’s resources to decide if the child is eligible. Once the child turns 18, the parents’ income is no longer considered when determining the means-based eligibility limits.

Instead, the SSA can only look at the adult applicant’s income and resources to determine if he or she qualifies for SSI benefits.  As a result, many people with disabilities who didn’t qualify for SSI as a minor may qualify as an adult since only their income is considered.

3) Gather Important Government Identification – If your child has not been issued a Social Security number, apply for it now. Also, consider obtaining a driver’s license (if appropriate under the circumstances) or a state-issued ID card at a minimum. Your child will need these government-issued documents in the future.

4) Consider Your Adult Child’s Future Needs – Depending on the nature of your child’s disability, he or she may require assistance managing financial matters or daily activities. Once your child turns 18, you no longer have the legal right to make these decisions for your child. Instead, you should consider a legal guardianship, Power of Attorney, or another plan to protect your child with special needs.

A Petition for Guardianship asks the court to make a legal ruling that someone is unable to manage his or her daily living activities or financial affairs because of a disability. If the court grants a guardianship, the appointed guardian is legally required to make decisions for the person with a disability (the ward) to ensure their best interests are protected.

Not all situations require a plenary (full) guardianship or even a limited guardianship (limited to certain areas of the individual’s life).

Instead, if your family member with a disability can understand and make basic life decisions, you might consider alternative tools such as a Durable Power of Attorney with many special provisions added, a special needs trust, informal family guidance, assisted living arrangements, and becoming the individual’s Representative Payee for SSI and/or SSDI.

5) Assemble Valuable Resources for Future Use – Should you need to apply for government benefits and services, guardianship, or other alternatives, you may need supporting evidence to demonstrate your child’s abilities. Valuable resources include:

  • medical professionals who have treated your child including doctors, physical therapists, and social workers who can attest to your child’s abilities,
  • school personnel who have created your child’s educational plan or taught your child in the past,
  • family and community members who know your child well and have had substantial interaction together, and
  • other reliable people who can attest to your child’s daily behaviors and abilities.

We Can Help You Protect Your Child’s Future

Turning 18 is an important milestone for any child. Children with special needs face additional complicated legal issues when they become legal adults. We are here to help you assess your family’s needs and decide what is best for your child’s future.

Rubin Law is the only law firm in Illinois exclusively limited to providing compassionate special needs legal and future planning to guide our fellow Illinois families of children and adults with intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities, or mental illness down the road to peace of mind. For more information, email us at or call 866-TO-RUBIN.