5 Must-Have Documents When Your Child Turns 18.
When your child reaches 18, it's crucial to have specific documents in place. Without them, you won't have the legal authority to make decisions on their behalf or access their health, education, or financial records.
In the unforeseen situation where your child becomes unable to make decisions independently, you will not be able to act on their behalf.
Here's why this matters to you:
By having the necessary documents and understanding the legal implications of your child turning 18, you'll be better prepared to handle this transition and avoid unintended consequences.
To you, your child will always be "your child," regardless of their age. However, according to the law, they become a legal adult on their 18th birthday. This seemingly minor change can have significant implications if not properly planned for. Without specific documents in place when they turn 18, you will lose access to their medical, financial, and academic records.
Moreover, in case your child is incapable of making decisions on their own, you will be restricted from making decisions on their behalf. This situation can pose unique challenges if your child is away at college. Planning ahead for these and other potential issues is crucial to avoid pitfalls that both you and your children may face.
How does the law regard your child now that they are 18?
At the "age of majority" (typically 18), your child is considered an adult by the law. Consequently, their health, financial, and educational information cannot be disclosed to anyone without their written consent.
What can you do? Certain legal documents need to be prepared to establish you as your child's legal representative.
Which documents should you consider having when your child turns 18?
Health care power of attorney: Also known as a "health care proxy," this document grants you the authority to make health care decisions on behalf of your child. It typically comes into effect when your child is physically or mentally incapable of making decisions. Although it's a scenario no parent wants to contemplate, having this document in place can provide peace of mind if the need ever arises.
HIPAA authorization: HIPAA is a privacy law that prohibits health care providers from disclosing your child's medical condition or records without authorization. To maintain access to this information, you need a HIPAA authorization document. Your child can also limit the breadth of access according to their comfort level.
Financial power of attorney: Similar to the health care proxy, a financial power of attorney grants you the authority to make financial decisions and access financial records on your child's behalf. This document is especially helpful when your child is preparing for college, as it ensures you can handle tax deadlines, contractual obligations, and other time-sensitive financial matters that might otherwise be overlooked.
FERPA authorization: FERPA requires written consent from students aged 18 or above before releasing educational records to others. Educational records include not only transcripts and disciplinary actions but also records maintained by the college's health clinic. Unlike medical records covered by HIPAA, these records fall under FERPA and require specific authorization.
Simple will: If your adult child passes away with individually owned assets, their estate will be subject to probate laws. Without a will, the assets will be distributed according to intestate laws. While the need for a will or will substitute depends on the complexity of your child's estate, it's advisable to discuss this matter with them.
While addressing the legal aspects is important, it's crucial to remember that turning 18 is a significant milestone and an opportunity for meaningful conversations with your child. It's a time to discuss your hopes and wishes and learn about your child's dreams.
Having the legal documents we mentioned earlier will grant you access to important information. However, ideally, much of this information should come through open communication with your child. If your child will be away from home, the frequency and method of communication will vary based on their preferences. This period also allows your child to explore new opportunities and gain valuable experiences. They might realize that their initial choices, such as college or career, may not align with their aspirations, or they may need guidance to make the most of their experiences.
This is an excellent opportunity for you to mentor them, encouraging accountability and supporting them in finding their own path. Whether your child is approaching their 18th birthday or has already reached this milestone, consider following the steps outlined above to ensure both of you are well-prepared for the exciting journey ahead.