Trusts | Guardianship

Many people with ASD will still need help from their parents and family in adulthood. Their needs will depend on their capacity to make decisions on financial issues, paying bills, when to see a doctor, medical treatments, etc.  There are many choices and the terms are often confusing.  Below is a quick reference guide on the options, some may vary by state.

  • GUARDIANSHIP  A legal relationship created when a person is named/appointed by the court to take care of incompetent adults.  Use this in particular if the adult is extremely vulnerable and unable to make basic decisions on needs and finances.
  • CONSERVATOR  A guardian appointed by a judge to protect and manage the financial affairs of an incompetent adult.
  • LIMITED OR PARTIAL GUARDIANSHIP  A guardian appointed for certain areas such as medical decisions.  Also includes guardianship over property such as the child’s bank accounts (a health care proxy for medical decisions or a power of attorney and even a joint checking account for financial decisions may also accomplish this).
  • TEMPORARY GUARDIANSHIP  A guardian appointed for emergency situations when decisions must be made right away.
  • WILL  A legal document that allows you to decide how your assets get distributed after you die, and also includes information on who will get custody of minor children or be the replacement guardian for an incompetent adult.  It is extremely important to keep your will updated – especially when it involves assigning custody of your child.  It is a public document, and will require the involvement of a state probate court to administer.  It’s inexpensive to set up a basic will and highly recommended for all parents with a child under 18, or those who serve as a guardian for an adult with ASD. In many states, wills can be created for free online.
  • TRUST  Also called a living trust, this is a document that makes all of your assets available for the benefit of another (called the beneficiary).  It’s a private document and specifies how your assets will be distributed immediately upon your death without going through the often lengthy and expensive state probate court process.  If you choose to, you can appoint people to oversee only financial issues and give custody to others in a special needs trust. For parents of adults with ASD, look into setting up a special needs trust which will allow the child to remain eligible for social security benefits and Medicaid. The costs of setting up a special needs trust can be deducted from your taxes. Click here for a sample of a special needs trust document.
  • DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY  A legal document that grants the parent the right to make many business and financial decisions such as banking transactions, dealing with agencies, etc.  This is a helpful option when the adult may be independent in some areas but sill needs help in others, particularly as it relates to financial issues.  Check your state website for samples of the general durable power of attorney forms and any local agencies you must deal with for any specific forms they may require.
  • HEALTH CARE PROXY  Similar to the durable power of attorney but used to grant the parent the authority to make medical decisions on behalf of the adult with ASD.
  • JOINT CHECKING ACCOUNT  A bank account in which both owners have equal access to the account.  This is appropriate for a high-functioning adult with ASD who needs some help instead of complete control by the parent to make financial decisions.


Much of the above content was written by Shannon King Nash, ESQ., CPA for The Autism File magazine.  Used with permission.

For additional resources, download NAA’s Age of Majority toolkit.