Parents: How to Prepare for Your Teen Turning 18

Beth Misak |

By Paul Hynes, CFP®
September 2019

What a difference a year makes.

When your teen turns 18, in the eyes of the law, they have achieved adult status.

This change often catches parents by surprise. More than simply a rite of passage, reaching age 18 significantly changes a teen’s legal status. Here are a few things that parents should remember about their “child” turning 18:

  1. When your child turns18, you no longer have the authority to make legal decisions on their behalf. You also lose the ability to access their health, education or financial records. The most alarming change can be losing the authority to make healthcare decisions for them. This is true even if they are covered by your health insurance and you are paying the bill. This means that if your child has an accident or illness and is temporarily disabled, you may need court approval to act on their behalf or even to be informed of their medical status. But, putting in place three important documents in advance can help keep this from happening (see #2).
  2. These two forms – HIPAA authorization and medical power of attorney – will help facilitate the involvement of a parent or other trusted adult in a medical emergency. The third document, a durable power of attorney, allows a parent or trusted adult to intercede in financial and legal matters. Just imagine if a young person is traveling abroad and gets arrested, or needs you to wire money from their account. Talk to your attorney or a trusted advisor if you have questions about these documents. Once the documents are completed, it’s a good idea to scan and save them so they’re readily available on a smartphone or home computer.
  3. Despite the fact that you may be paying for their education, the FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) law says you no longer have access to your 18 year old’s educational records. Educational records include grades, disciplinary actions, scholarship information and tuition bills. If you want access to this information, make sure there is a FERPA authorization on file at the school they attend
  4. Although not required, this is a great time for your kids to register to vote. It’s also a good idea for them to consider establishing credit in their own name.
  5. Upon reaching the age of 18, all males with US citizenship (with very few exceptions) must register for the selective service.

Turning 18 allows your teen to vote, serve in the military, serve on a jury, sign a contract and get married without your consent. Although they still can’t do certain things, like drink alcohol or rent cars, their legal status is decidedly different than it was at 17.

Your child will always be your child, regardless of their age and the passage of years. However, keep in mind that the legal world has a different set of standards once your teenager turns turn 18. Don’t be caught off guard.