How to become the legal guardian of this minor?
September 19, 2013 6:34 PM   Subscribe

How to become the legal guardian of this minor? My daughter-in-law, Dil, has a brother Kiddo, a minor aged 15, whose father is deceased and whose mother is currently hospitalized, and is unable to care for him. I have a raft of questions, one of which is How to find a competent, affordable, lawyer.

Kiddo's Mom was unable to care for him before hospitalization, and does not expect to be able to care for him. She asked Son and Dil to care for him, including moving to Colorado. She is in Hawai'i; Kiddo and Dil are from Hawai'i. Kiddo, Dil, and my son are in Colorado, where Son is in the US Military, and Kiddo is attending school. My son and Dil have a document giving them power of attorney for Kiddo. Kiddo receives Social Security Survivor benefits. But Kiddo has some urgent medical needs well beyond what those benefits will cover. Son and Dil want to become legal guardians of Kiddo so that he can be enrolled in Son's health care plan, and Son can possibly receive a dependent allowance. Kiddo is on board. They don't expect to need conservatorship.

Son and Dil have been married under a year, and took this on without adequate preparation, but they love Kiddo, and are providing a stable, healthy home. Kiddo has lived with other siblings and family members, but hasn't had good health or dental care, so there are some big bills looming.
  • Is Kiddo eligible for other social services, like food stamps, or anything else, based on being on SS survivors benefits?
  • If Son and Dil become guardians, does that jeopardize Kiddo's SS survivor benefit?
  • It looks like Son and Dil can do a lot of this, and have a lawyer review it? is that a reasonable assumption?
  • How to find an affordable and competent attorney in Colorado Springs?
  • What have I not asked?

I've found these useful sites: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
posted by theora55 to Law & Government (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The magic words you want are Kinship Placement, and that link is a list of organizations in Colorado that assist with these questions. Organizations that do work with Kinship Placement can help you access legal (possibly free!) aid, as well as other resources, such as parenting classes tailored toward the transition from one home to another and the myriad challenges of this kind of blended family. This includes crisis services, should a need for that arise (one never knows what's in the cards with teenagers). Here is an informational website from the US Dept of Health and Human Services. Here's a list of financial assistance information from the HHS website (for instance, SNAP/food stamps may be available!).

I beg of you, accept every offer of help that you are extended. I was a kinship placement in my teen years (I didn't know the term until fairly recently) and while it saved my life, the inability or unwillingess of my caregiver to access resources has had a devastating impact on our relationship.

Things that you will need help discussing with your new teen:
  • Budgeting: especially if there are or will be other kids in the house. The perception of unfairness may be real.
  • Rules: again fairness.
  • Big emotions: there will be lots.
  • What to call Son and Dil: I practiced "mom" exactly one time. It went over like a lead balloon because I was simultaneously being a shitty teenager. I'm still ashamed of that moment. We never spoke of it again.
  • Kiddo having doubts/second thoughts: it might happen. It will not mean he is a bad person. Make sure he knows that.
  • Therapy: Oh my god therapy. Please get this kid therapy. If the therapist says "hey, let's increase this from once a week to twice a week because the kid you've got is about as emotionally mature as a 5 year old" don't decide to cut of therapy altogether. Absolutely get therapy for the adults as well. They might have second thoughts, this new addition WILL cause tension in their relationship. There will be new budgeting challenges. They will need to present a united front to Kiddo. A good therapist can help with all of these things. One of the organizations at that link should be able to get you set up with one for the adults and one for the kid, and maybe someone for everyone to visit with together. Kiddo should know that the adults are also in therapy, so that Kiddo doesn't think that there is something wrong with him.
If the kid is resistant to therapy (because many people are!) you can offer the analogy of a car: you take a car for regular tuneups, to prevent things from going wrong. People are the same way, just like we go to the doctor every year, our emotions need tuning up also. Ok, maybe that's a bad analogy given Kiddo's ongoing health problems. But you can find another analogy.
posted by bilabial at 7:09 PM on September 19, 2013 [11 favorites]

I have some muddling understandings of some of this, only enough to help outline some steps.

1. Did kiddo have any health coverage at all? If not, he may be able to sign up for state health care in Colorado which might get up and running more quickly than this process might take. Start here.
2. Similarly, my experience in MA and WA has been that food stamps are usually separate from SS stuff and if he's preparing and purchasing food with your son/dil then need-based things like food stamps would be based on the entire family's situation (that said, if they qualify, by all means apply soon since it's helpful and doesn't generally affect other service options)
3. I have MeFite pals in Colorado Springs, not lawyers, but parents. Will MeMail you their info and you could ask for local info.

I assume you are on board with this but I would not think of doing this without an attorney but my experience is if everyone is on board (and there is not some grouchy grandparent that shows up someplace) it will mostly be a lot of paperwork and a possible court appearance.
posted by jessamyn at 7:13 PM on September 19, 2013

Do you know if Kiddo's mother would like him to be adopted by the couple? If she does not consent, it will likely be significantly more difficult than if she also wants the adoption to happen.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:55 PM on September 19, 2013

Response by poster: Update - Kiddo lives with Son and Dil, and is fewer than 10 years younger than his sister Dil. No other kids. They are totally open to accepting help.
Kiddo may have had the Hawai'i version of Medicaid; the military's insurance is pretty good, also affordable.
There are grandparents; they are on board with Kiddo being in Colorado with Son and Dil.
I think adoption would end Soc. Sec., and since Kiddo's Mom is living, unless there's a compelling reason, it's unlikely.
posted by theora55 at 8:04 PM on September 19, 2013

One compelling reason for adoption is that if Kiddo's mom dies, the kid has permanency and doesn't have to go through "the system" to get legally recognized as having a legal guardian. Another compelling reason is that it's not revocable and gives Kiddo the added security of knowing he won't get bounced around. Teenagers do some weird brain shit around attachment and boundaries.

The kinship people can explain the pros and cons of all the options.

Here's something that Son and Dil might find interesting. They can request a c with more ase manager with experience helping military families, or with cross state kinship issues (because mom is in Hawaii). This WILL increase the wait time, and it's not guaranteed to get you a more comfortable working relationship, but I wanted to throw that out there.

You'll probably need to fill out a self referral form, or answer a bunch of questions on the phone. This information is also used to help match you to a case manager or social worker, and give that person a good idea of where to start.
posted by bilabial at 2:31 AM on September 20, 2013

There should be (free?) legal aid available on Son's base. I forget the name of the office, but all he has to do is ask the chaplain.
posted by easily confused at 2:55 AM on September 20, 2013

Tell your son to go to JAG. They will not only have free legal advice, they will also have the names of reputable attorneys who offer serious military discounts in various fields.
posted by corb at 5:02 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Fort Carson Office of the Staff Judge Advocate. (If it's not Fort Carson, sorry - you said C-Springs, and I was posted out there once, so I assumed.)
posted by corb at 5:06 AM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

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