top of page

Caring for a Special Needs Child

Special Needs Child and Parent

I n Tennessee a parent is charged with the care and support of a child until age 18 or the child graduates high school. But what of a special needs child who may need some or total care and support after the age of 18? A parent is not legally required to provide the support nor may a parent make medical and financial decisions for a child over the age of 18. What must a parent do to ensure that they can continue to care for a special needs child after the age of 18?


In order for a parent to continue to make medical and financial decisions for a child after age 18, who cannot make those decisions his/herself, the parent needs to be appointed conservator for their child. Parents with a special needs child should begin to plan several months prior to the child’s eighteenth birthday. The parents will need to obtain a statement from the child’s physician which states what the child’s condition is and that it disables the child from making decisions on her/his behalf. The report should also state to what extent a conservator is needed, whether a conservator is needed to make medical decisions and/or financial decisions for the child.

Once the parents have the medical report they need to meet with an attorney who practices in this area. The attorney will prepare a petition to have the parents appointed the conservator for the child. Notice will be given to other interested parties, as an example if the parents of the child are divorced the non-petitioning parent will need to be notified of the petition. With the petition and the medical report, the attorney will file a property management plan. A property management plan lists all the child’s assets and income (i.e. social security disability). The plan will also include the child’s monthly expenses and how those expenses will be paid from the child’s assets or if necessary to be supplemented by the parent.

Guardian Ad Litem

Once the petition is filed a guardian ad litem, will be appointed by the court. The guardian ad litem is the eyes and ears of the court and will investigate the petition. The guardian ad litem will meet the child and parents and anyone of interest and will review the child’s finances and medical records. The guardian ad litem will then prepare a report for the court. The court will set a date for a hearing and at the hearing review the petition, medical report, property management plan and hear the report of the guardian ad litem. At the hearing court will hear any objections to the petition, made either by the child, if she/he does not think they need a conservator or filed by any other interested party (i.e. a parent of the child who is divorced from the petitioning parent). If there is an objection to the petition or if the guardian ad litem determines an attorney needs to be appointed to represent the child (an attorney ad litem) the court will usually set the matter for a hearing in the future and appoint a temporary guardian, if needed. There will then be additional proceedings but there is not space to addressed that here.

If at the hearing there is no objection to the petition and the guardian ad litem states a conservator is needed and the petitioning parents should be appointed; then the court will order that a conservator be appointed for the child, will appoint the parents as conservators of the child and determine what powers to be given the conservator over the child. The court will then have an order issued making the parents conservators of their child.

Parents Deserve All the Support We Can Give

This is a daunting task to care for a special needs child and the parents who want to continue to care for their child deserve all the support we can give them. One of the judges often states that we hear a lot of what is bad in this world, but never hear about the good like parents who continue to care for their child long after they are legally required.

If you have a special needs child and need to talk to an attorney, give me a call.

Call Parker | Lawrence

201 4th Avenue. North, Suite 1700, Nashville, Tennessee 37219 /615.255.7500

bottom of page