Planning Ahead – Parents of children with decision-making disability

Parents of children with a decision-making disability who are about to turn 18, often want to make plans for the future care and support of their child once they become an adult.
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The Guardianship and Administration Act 1990 recognises that adults (people over the age of 18) who are not capable of making reasoned decisions for themselves, may need additional support and assistance not only to ensure their quality of life is maintained, but also to protect them from the risk of neglect, exploitation and abuse. 

Many parents of children with decision-making disabilities are interested in how the Act will protect their children as they move into adulthood, enabling the appointment of substitute decision-makers in the future, to make decisions in the best interests of their adult children.

For more information on planning ahead, including topics such as deciding whether your adult child needs an guardian or administrator and who will support them if you are no longer able to do so, please refer to the Frequently Asked Questions below.

Frequently Asked Questions

When someone turns 18, they become an adult and legally entitled to make their own decisions.  This is the same for someone with a decision-making disability.  What needs to be decided is whether your adult child has the capacity to make decisions in their own best interests.

This discussion may occur when a decision is needed, and a health professional or service provider would be involved. If they think your adult child can make informed decisions, then they will support this, but they may still want to seek your advice and support during the process.

Does an adult child with a decision-making disability need a guardian or administrator?

If there is no conflict and informal processes are working well, it is not always necessary for someone to have a guardian or administrator, so long as the decisions made are in the best interests of the adult child.

However if a parent can no longer provide the necessary support, if there is conflict, or if a bank or other financial institution needs to see a formal authority before they will talk to you about your child’s finances, legal authority may be required and you can make an application to the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT) for guardianship and/or administration.

The best way to prepare for the future is to talk to family and friends about guardianship and administration and what they may need to do if you are no longer able to act as the informal decision-maker. You may want to provide family and friends with information on this website when doing so.

It is important to note that as soon as a guardian or administrator is appointed, that person takes over decision-making authority. So, if the informal processes are working well, you may want to leave these in place until circumstances change for you and/or your adult child.

How to make an application to the State Administrative Tribunal?

To apply for someone to have a guardian or administrator, you need to complete an application form which is available from the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT). It is free to make an application, and there is no cost for any related hearing.

For more information go to the page on how SAT handles guardianship and administration matters available from the SAT website.

Can I make an Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA) or Enduring Power of Guardianship (EPG) for my adult child?

No, it is not possible for you to make either power for your adult child - or for anyone else.

These documents can only be completed by adults with full legal capacity. The parent or guardian of an adult with a decision-making disability cannot make any of these documents on their behalf.

If someone has not made an EPA or EPG, or they do not have the 'full legal capacity' required to do so, and a substitute decision-maker is required, that is when a guardian or administrator may need to be appointed by the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT).

Can my adult child, who has a decision-making disability, make these powers for themselves?

To make either power an adult must have full legal capacity. This means that the person must know and understand what the document is and the consequences of making it, including an understanding that they will be giving someone else the authority to make decisions about them.

If a person is already diagnosed with some form of decision-making disability it does not automatically mean that they lack the capacity to make the document. However, for people in this situation it is recommended that they see a qualified health professional who can assess if they have the capacity to make the document.

If the health professional says that they have this capacity it is recommended the written assessment is kept with the document which they complete so that everybody knows that they had the capacity to make it.

If someone does not have the capacity to make the document then that is when guardianship and administration may come into consideration – but as previously stated, not having capacity does not always mean an application needs to be made for Guardianship and Administration. See above for more information.

Can I nominate a guardian for my adult child in my Will?

No, it is not possible to will the guardianship of an adult to another person, even when that adult has a decision-making disability. Therefore, it is not possible to nominate someone to be the guardian in your Will.

It is better to talk to trusted family and friends now about who might be available to help the person with a decision-making disability in the future. This might be as simple as giving people the contact details for the Office of the Public Advocate or the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT) so that they know who to contact in the future.

Who will make decisions about my adult child’s property/finances, or personal, treatment and lifestyle options after I die?

For an adult who has lost, or who never had, capacity, the 'least restrictive' alternative can apply. This means that where informal processes work in the person's best interests, decisions can be made informally by family and/or close friends.

It is important to have discussions now with family and/or close friends about who is suitable, willing and available to make decisions on behalf of your (adult) child if you are no longer able to, either in an informal capacity or as a legally appointed guardian and/or administrator.

If informal processes are not working an application can be made to the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT) for the appointment of a guardian and/or administrator.

I don’t have family who can make an application to the State Administrative Tribunal – what will happen to my adult child?

Any interested party can make an application to the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT) for the appointment of a guardian and/or administrator – it doesn’t have to be a friend or family member.

Interested parties can include residential care home managers, local area coordinators, social workers, doctors or bank managers, as well as any other agency which requires a decision.

At some point there will be a person or agency which needs a decision to be made and this means there will be someone who will make an application to the State Administrative Tribunal if required.

If I have no family to support my adult child when I can no longer do so, who will be appointed?

The Public Advocate can be appointed by the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT) as guardian of last resort to make decisions about personal, treatment and lifestyle matters in the best interests of the person with a decision-making disability.

The Public Trustee can be appointed by the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT) as administrator of last resort to make decisions about property and financial matters in the best interests of the person with a decision-making disability.

Children under 18

While the Office of the Public Advocate provides support for people over the age of 18, there are various agencies and organisations who can assist with queries regarding guardianship of a minor:

  • Child Protection/Department of Communities protects and cares for Western Australian children and young people in need and supports families and individuals who are at risk or in crisis. For more information, visit the Child Protection page.
  • Legal Aid Western Australia provides information surrounding child protection, including FAQs for grandparents and relatives with concerns about child welfare.  For more information, visit the Grandparents and relatives page.
  • The Family Court of Western Australia provides information parenting and parental responsibility. For more information, visit the Parental responsibility page.
  • The Youth Affairs Council of Western Australia (YACWA) is a non-government youth organisation which provides an independent, active advocacy for the non-government youth sector. For more information, visit the YACWA website.

If you are worried about a child or young person:

If you believe a child is in immediate danger or life-threatening situation, contact the Western Australia Police Force immediately by dialling 000.

If you are concerned about a child’s wellbeing (and it does not require immediate Police attention), visit the Department of Communities website or call 1800 273 889.