As a child with disabilities approaches the age of 18, parents should seriously consider securing legal guardianship in a formal court proceeding.  When your child turns 18, the law considers them an adult and able to make their own medical, education and financial decisions, decisions and live where they like.  By securing guardianship, you continue to have the legal rights as you did before your child became an adult.  Often an older sibling or other family member serves as a third guardians to ensure continuity of care when the parents can no longer serve.  To be ready for this process, make sure your school has completed a recent psychological report and have a medical doctor that is willing to sign a letter stating the need for guardianship.  Contact Lisa at around age 17 and 1/2 if possible so guardianship can be established by the child’s 18th birthday.  You can secure guardianship after 18, however.

Special Needs Planning

When a baby with special needs is born, parents are initially consumed with meeting the medical needs of their child and coming to grips with the fact that their baby likely will not have the kind of life they expected. Soon a routine of Doctor visits, therapy, and worry settles in as “normal.” Nagging fears soon arise about who will care for their child if and when the parents cannot.

Somewhere along this journey, hopefully sooner rather than later, parents of a child with disabilities should get legal documents in place to protect themselves and their child. Generally, a special needs trust should be established for a child with disabilities. Through a special needs trust, parents can leave money for the benefit of their disabled child without disqualifying the child from such benefits as Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and DPSD funding. If a special needs trust is not in place upon the death of the parents, the child with disabilities would likely inherit from the parents under state law and be disqualified from these benefits as their assets must remain under $2,000.

Lisa Broderick Thornton is well qualified to help you with all your special needs legal planning, having helped hundreds of families with children with special needs. She is especially empathetic, having lived the world of special needs for the last several years with her daughter, Kate, who has Prader-Willi syndrome.

Estate Planning

You should complete your estate planning to protect your assets and the people you love. Lisa Broderick Thornton can help you get these documents in place. Each parent should have a will, a power of attorney, and a medical directive. Many parents will also want to consider a revocable trust as part of their estate planning. Contact Lisa for a free consultation to discuss how these documents, discussed more fully below, can protect your assets for the people you love.


A will is an essential basic legal document that allows you to direct to whom your property will be distributed upon your death, such as your children, grandchildren, charities, or other heirs. If you die without a will, you die “intestate” and the state decides how your assets will be distributed. The executor is named in your will, and is the person that will administer your wishes upon your death. You should also name a guardian for your minor children and children with disabilities.  If you die without a will and have a child with disabilities, that child will likely inherit from you and would become ineligible for government benefits such as Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid, and DSPD.


Many parents will want to choose a revocable trust along with a will that pours over their assets into the revocable trust upon death. This choice allows a family to avoid probate with the accompanying delay, court costs, and attorney fees.


The Utah Advance Health Care Directive names the people you want to act on your behalf when you are unable to communicate your desires for medical treatment. This document also makes known your wishes regarding donation of organs and medical research.


A durable power of attorney names those to act for you while you are still living if you are unavailable or if you become incapacitated and cannot make decisions on your own regarding your financial matters. This important document allows loved ones to act for you and prevents the need for a guardianship to be established for you if you are incapacitated.