Ask the parent of an eighteen-year-old whether their child is an adult, and you’re 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…teenagers.

Legally speaking, however, your child’s 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 child’s behalf. In addition, you have no automatic right to access your child’s medical records or financial accounts, and you cannot step in and take control of your child’s 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. Here’s an example:

Your daughter spends the summer doing volunteer work in South America. While she’s away, the student apartment she’s had her eye on becomes available. The lease needs to be signed right away, but she is out of the country and there’s no way to get her signature. Does she have to miss out on the apartment she wants so much?

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. Here’s 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 child’s 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 doesn’t mean they’re 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.

By: The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys

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