Compliments of John D. Laughton, A Professional Law Corporation,
Written By: The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys
Ask the parent of an eighteen-year-old whether their child is an adult, and
youre likely to get a wry smile. Eighteen-year-olds like to think of themselves
as adults, but parents tend to look at their young adult offspring and see
Legally speaking, however, your childs eighteenth birthday is a huge milestone.
This is when your child reaches the age of majority in most states, and magically
literally overnight transforms from a child into an adult. You might look at
your eighteen-year-old and see an average teenager, but the state sees a grownup.
In the eyes of the government, your child is capable of registering to vote,
managing their own money and other assets, and taking charge of their own
decision-making whether you agree with those decisions or not.
As of this birthday, you are no longer automatically empowered to make decisions
on your childs behalf. In addition, you have no automatic right to access your
childs medical records or financial accounts, and you cannot step in and take
control of your childs property.
Being the parent of an eighteen-year-old can present a number of practical
challenges, particularly if your child goes to an out-of-state college or takes a
gap year to travel abroad. Heres an example:
Your daughter spends the summer doing volunteer work in South America. While
shes away, the student apartment shes had her eye on becomes available. The
lease needs to be signed right away, but she is out of the country and theres no
way to get her signature. Does she have to miss out on the apartment she wants so
With good planning, you can be in a position to help. Your estate planning
attorney can help you and your child put together a simple set of documents that
will make life a little more convenient for both of you and will allow you to
step in if there is an emergency. Heres what each document does:
- Durable Financial Power of Attorney: With a Durable Financial Power of
Attorney, your child appoints you as their agent and gives you the authority to
manage their money or property under certain defined circumstances. This is the
document that, if appropriately drafted, can allow you to sign a lease on behalf
of your child.
- Healthcare Power of Attorney: This document allows your child to appoint you
to make medical decisions on their behalf if your child is unable to make those
decisions. Without a healthcare power of attorney, if your eighteen-year-old is
seriously injured or gravely ill, there is no requirement for the doctors to
allow you to participate in the medical decision-making process.
- HIPAA Authorization Form: Under the federal Health Insurance Portability and
Accountability Act, medical providers must be extremely cautious about the
unauthorized release of their patients information. Once your child turns
eighteen, doctors are prohibited by law from sharing their medical information
with you unless your child has given them express consent to do so. The HIPAA
Authorization Form allows you access to your childs medical records, whether you
need a copy of their vaccination record for college enrollment or you need to
address a more serious health concern.
At eighteen, your child is likely ready to branch out and start exploring the
world. However, this doesnt mean theyre ready to leave the nest without help
from you. With a little planning, you can be there for your young adult as they
make the next steps toward independence.