What Legal Documents Does an 18-Year-Old Need?
by Christopher L. Kelly, Esq.
Many homes across America now have new adults in their midst. People who were high school seniors just a year ago, but are now—according to the law—fully-grown adults. (Notwithstanding the fact they didn’t walk a graduation line!) While some families are planning to send their students off to college in the fall and others are sending these new adults into the workforce, few parents think about their new legal needs now that they’ve had their 18th birthday. Buying dorm furniture, picking out meal plans and buying new work clothes are important, but it’s also important to think about what legal documents your new eighteen (18) year-old adult may need. You could be in for a terrible realization when something has happened to your child and you find out you are no longer able to make decisions on his or her behalf. It may be hard to admit it, but you have an adult in the house—and that adult needs adult legal documents.
What are the documents the new adult needs? Here are four essentials.
1. A Last Will and Testament. While a new adult may not own very much at this point in his or her life, it is still prudent to consider executing a fairly basic Last Will and Testament. This will appoint a person or persons as Executor who can handle any final matters in the event of an untimely death. No one knows exactly how their estate may look upon death, so having someone appointed in a Will to deal with any final legal matters could make it much easier for those left behind.
2. A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare (DPOAHC). Up to this point, a parent has generally been able to make medical decisions on behalf of their children without any issues. Since the child is now eighteen years of age, the parent is legally no longer able to do so. With a DPOAHC, the young adult appoints someone who can make healthcare decisions for them when they are unable to do so. It is important to ensure that this document contains the necessary HIPAA authorizations so health privacy issues do not arise.
For example, Johnny is away at college. He’s involved in an accident that requires hospitalization, so he is taken to College Town General Hospital where he is rendered temporarily incompetent due to the medications given to him. Johnny’s roommate calls his parents to let them know. After they arrive at the hospital, the doctors pose some critical questions about Johnny’s treatment, but there is no one authorized legally to make decisions. In this case, the decisions are left completely up to the medical staff to make in the moment. If it appears that the period of incompetency will extend for some time, his parents do have the option to pursue a conservatorship. However, this can be time intensive when quick decisions are vital. A properly-executed DPOAHC that appoints one or both of the parents as Johnny’s agent takes care of this issue.
3. A Durable Power of Attorney For Financial Matters (DPOAFM). While a young adult’s business relationships may be fairly limited or so intertwined with their parents that there are no issues with gaining access to your young adult’s business records, it is still prudent to have a DPOAFM. Similar to the DPOAHC, in this document a child can appoint an agent to make financial decisions on his or her behalf. This instrument may be useful in dealing with banking, insurance or other business matters when your child may need some assistance. Most DPOAFM are written so that the person named as the Agent may take action whether the child is deemed incompetent or not. This way, the parents could still deal with issues at the local bank even if their child is attending school or working hours away.
Also, since the typical young adult spends so much time online or in the social media realm, you’ll want to ensure the DPOAFM contains the correct language to allow the Agent access to these accounts (i.e. bank accounts, social media accounts, payment apps, etc.).
4. Educational Records Release. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requires that students who are eighteen or older must provide written consent before their educational records are provided to a parent or guardian. Most schools have their own version of this form, so check with your student’s school about getting a copy of it. Having access to this information will keep the parent or guardian informed about key deadlines (i.e. financial aid, scholarships, dorm deposit deadlines, etc.) as well as the student’s academic information.
Even though that new 18-year-old in the house may still seem like the same kid as last year, it is important to be aware of the changes brought about the moment he or she blew out the candles on his/ her last birthday cake. These four basic documents will cover most of the legal issues that a new adult may encounter, keeping parents informed and empowered to help if the need should arise.
If a child will be working or attending school out of state, it is important to ensure that any legal documents the child executes will be recognized as valid in the same state as the school or workplace is located.
If you have a child entering the military, the respective branches of the military provide basic legal services to its members. Encourage your child to check with their command staff about meeting with a military attorney.
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Please note that the advice offered in this article is not intended to be construed as tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for general informational purposes only and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice for the reader. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.