What Legal Documents Do 18-Year-Olds Need?

Legal documents and 18-year-olds wouldn’t seem to go in the same sentence at first glance.

However, as written below by Lorien Johnson, a Tampa estate planning attorney, they actually do. A young adult’s records and business, both financial and health care, become their own at 18. Without permission, parents may find themselves locked out of information necessary to help their adult child in a bind.

Helpful Tips from An Estate Planning Expert

Below are Lorien’s helpful tips:

“What do you mean I can’t access that…

Normally, one thinks of healthcare and financial powers of attorney as something “older people” need. However, as a 2014 Forbes article states, children turning 18 also need to sign these two documents before they leave home – or even if they stay home.

What most parents don’t know is that once a child turns 18, the parents have no access to the medical and financial records of that child – now officially an adult – even if parents are paying for their new adult’s healthcare insurance and/or funding those bank accounts.

This lack of access can be a nightmare in a healthcare emergency when parents don’t have access to all of the new adult’s medical records to help direct the doctors. While financial concerns are not usually as time sensitive, there may be times when the new adult would want someone else to act on their behalf such as renewing a car registration, signing a lease in their absence, or accessing a bank account.

In addition to these documents, the new adult also needs a living will to guide doctors regarding end of life decisions. And while they are at it, if the new adult wants to leave any assets owned now – or assets that may be acquired prior to getting around to changing their will – to someone other than their parents, a will is needed as well. Without a will in place, any assets pass according to state intestacy laws – first to children, if none, then to parents, etc.”

Part of Pandemic Preparedness

Although young adults appear to have a much smaller chance of serious illness and hospitalization, today’s pandemic presents a greater risk than normal times that they might temporarily need someone to make decisions for them.

A few years ago, a financial planner from southern California described a client couple whose son and his girlfriend were in an accident near their Arizona university. Their son was unconscious and his girlfriend was not. The parents were unable to maintain contact with the girlfriend. The hospital would not give the parents any information, citing HIPAA. They drove to Arizona, and while the girlfriend was allowed to sit by their son’s bedside, the parents were kept away for several hours until they could make their case to a rational administrator.

While this case might be unusual, having the legal documents described by Lorien would have left no room for irrational, playing-it-“safe” ER personnel. The documents in question are fairly straightforward, so if your young adult is heading out for school or work this fall, now is a good time to get their legal document basics in order.

Holly Donaldson

Holly Donaldson, CFP® runs an hourly and fee-for-service financial planning practice virtually from her Tampa Bay, Florida office. She also works with clients throughout the U.S. (except Texas) interested in retirement and tax planning advice without product sales or investment management. Holly is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch."

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