So Your Child Is 18. Now What?

Most of us like to say “Age ain’t nothin’ but a number,” but most 18-year-olds, and their parents, beg to differ. For parents, their children turning 18 is more than just another birthday. It is a milestone that marks your child’s first steps into legal majority. It also marks the beginning of your child’s semi-automatic response to your house rules: “I’m an adult now. You can’t tell me what to do!”

While these first steps into adulthood bring great privileges, they also come with significant responsibilities and legal implications. Now your child has the right, and responsibility, to make all their own legal decisions. This means that suddenly, parents are left out of decisions and parts of their child’s life even though they may still be supporting them. So what does this mean for you?

As a new adult, your child gains many new rights whether or not you, as parents, choose to exercise them yourselves. Some of these rights are political and include the right to vote in national, state and local elections, run for office, and to enter military service with or without your permission. Once your child turns 18, he or she can make significant life decisions like buying a house or living independently, renting an apartment and signing on a residential lease, marrying without your permission, and making and signing a will as a testator in order to direct to whom their personal or real property should be distributed.

Cars and Contracts: Even though your new 18-year-old may not be able to rent a vehicle, he or she can still purchase a vehicle. Be aware, parents, you might be asked to be a co-signer on the vehicle, if your child has not yet been able to build up a solid credit history, in order to get a loan. Your child can also buy and sell real estate and stock and inherit property. One of the most significant effects of turning 18 is your child’s right to enter into a binding contract. Your child can enter a contract with another person and be bound by its terms and, in most instances, be sued for the breach of that contract, including paying back loans and lines of credit.

Financial: Most 18-year-olds have their own bank accounts and debit cards. Some may even have a credit card. However, once your child turns 18, you no longer have a right to access your child’s account or get any banking information unless your name is also on the account.

School: The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal privacy law that gives parents certain protections with regard to their children’s education records including report cards, transcripts, disciplinary records, and class schedules. Generally under this act, you have the right to review your child’s education records but not to receive copies. This permission all changes when your child turns 18. Now, those rights which you once had are transferred over to the student, even if you are still “paying the bill”.

Healthcare: Many 18-year-olds are still on their parents’ health insurance policies and can remain on policies until they turn 26 years old. One change that happens when your child turns 18 years old is that their privacy rights under HIPAA and other state laws are triggered. Now that your child is 18, he or she is covered by privacy protection laws too. Even though your child is still on your policy, you cannot access their medical information without their consent, in the form of a release. The consent form is especially important if your child suffers from a chronic or emotional illness, or is in an emergency situation.

Civic duties: As the Presidential election draws ever near your 18-year-olds are now eligible to register and to vote. They can also be called for jury duty at the courthouse. They are responsible for paying their state and federal taxes on time. In North Carolina, when your son is 18, he must register with the National Selective Service, but your daughter does not have to register. If your son does not register before he turns 26 years old, he could face a penalty of $250,000 and/or 5 years in jail in addition to the loss of any student loans and federal or state employment benefits.

To anyone who just turned 18: You have all the rights above, but you also have serious responsibilities that go along with your new status as a legal adult. Although you may still be living at home, your parents are not required to give you any financial support. If you have a child, you are responsible for child custody and support payments, and you can be sued for child support or medical bills relating to your child’s birth. You may be called for jury duty and are legally responsible for any contracts you enter.

The key to a smooth transition for parents and their new legal adult is staying informed of the rights and responsibilities and keeping the lines of communication open. As the parent of an 18-year-old, there are important legal documents you should consider asking your son or daughter to execute in an effort to ease this transition into adulthood. These documents include:

  • Durable Power of Attorney
  • Healthcare Power of Attorney
  • HIPAA & FERPA Release Forms
  • Living Will
  • Will

If you need assistance with any of these legal document or other related matters, please contact one of our wills and estate attorneys at 704-892-1699.