When your child turns 18, they’re legally an adult even though they have a lot more growing to do. Just like any other adult, their health and financial information is protected by privacy laws. But unlike any other adult, that’s still your child, and you want to support them in a crisis. Your role as a parent is crucial in this transition. Unless you’ve planned, you won’t be able to step in and support your child. 

As an estate planning attorney, I often see families caught off guard when I tell them this. Like those families, you may also assume that as a parent, you’ll always have a say in your child’s medical and financial matters. But you don’t. Under the law, you have just as much access to their medical and financial information as you do for Joe down the street (which is none).

The good news is that with proper planning, you can help your newly minted adult child navigate this transition and ensure you can step in if something happens. Here, I’ll share three strategies to help you and your child make the transition to adulthood as easy as possible. 

Strategy 1: Education

The first strategy for a successful transition to adulthood is education. At my firm, I start every client relationship with education. That’s because I believe that education equals empowerment, which supports you to make the right choices for yourself and your family. Young adults also need to be empowered through education. The more you can teach your child about their new financial and legal responsibilities, the more confident you’ll feel in their ability to make the right decisions.

If you haven’t already started talking with them about legal and financial matters, now is the time. Start with a kind of budgeting we call “money mapping.” Explain the importance of tracking their income and expenses, setting financial goals, and investing wisely, both now and in the future. 

Help them understand the basics of banking, such as how to use checking and savings accounts and the benefits of maintaining a good credit score, and assist them in setting up their bank account if they don’t already have one. Explain how to avoid overdrafts and the significance of keeping track of their balance. Introduce them to how to access credit and use it responsibly. Explain how credit cards work, the importance of paying off balances in full each month, when it’s okay to carry a balance, and the long-term benefits of building a positive credit history.

And let’s not forget your child’s new tax obligations. Teach them how to file taxes, what documents they need, and how to understand their W-2 forms or what it means to be a 1099. Explain the importance of keeping accurate records and navigating essential tax software.

Health care is another critical area where your child needs education. Let your child know that you can’t make medical decisions for them and that you won’t have access to their health records anymore—unless they give them to you. I’ll cover which essential documents they need in a minute, but first, let’s talk about the importance of communication in helping them document their wishes properly.

Strategy 2: Encourage Communication

Adulthood often involves having complicated conversations (as if I’m telling you anything you don’t know!). Two of those conversations with your child have to do with their healthcare and financial decisions in the event of an emergency. 

First off, I want to say that even thinking about your child being in an emergency medical situation is hard to think about, much less talk about. And it will probably be much harder for you than for them. It’s OK. Take a deep breath. You can do this!

After you’ve breathed your way to calm, have an open conversation about what your child would want to happen in various medical scenarios. If they become incapacitated, who would they want to make decisions on their behalf? Both parents or one of you first, then the other? Or do they want anyone else involved in the medical decisions if they cannot make them themselves? Be open to the possibility that they have different people in their lives that they may want to include, and be glad they are telling you about it if that’s the case. 

Do they know what a ventilator is and whether they’d want one if it became an issue? What about a feeding or hydration tube? And what about resuscitation? Talking about these things is necessary so your child’s wishes are honored. Who would need access to them in case of an accident or an illness? Once you know the answers to these questions, you can help your child create a health care directive and medical power of attorney.

Have the same conversations about finances. Do you know which and how many financial accounts they have? If they’re in college, how will you access their account to stop tuition or housing payments if necessary? Can you access their checking account if bills need to be paid? Your child may be reluctant to discuss these matters with you but assure them you have no intent to violate their autonomy. You simply want to be there for them if needed. 

Strategy 3: Legal Planning

Once you and your child have had these difficult conversations, emphasize the need for a legal plan so their wishes are documented and honored. This process may seem daunting, but it’s necessary to ensure your child’s future. At the least, your adult child’s legal plan should include the following documents:

Health Care Proxy and Advance Directive. A healthcare proxy grants someone, usually you, the authority to make medical decisions on your child’s behalf if they cannot. This document is crucial in ensuring that your child’s medical wishes are respected and followed, even if they are unable to communicate them. An Advance Directive complements this by outlining their medical treatment preferences in various scenarios, ensuring their wishes are respected even when they can’t voice them. It’s like a roadmap for their medical care, ensuring that their values and beliefs are considered in any medical decision. 

HIPAA Authorization. The HIPAA Authorization is equally essential. While HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) protects patient privacy, it can prevent you from accessing your child’s medical information without explicit permission. By signing a HIPAA Authorization, your child can ensure that you can speak with doctors and receive updates on their condition.

Living Will. A living will is another vital document to consider, as it outlines your child’s wishes regarding end-of-life care, such as whether they want to receive life-sustaining treatments. Documenting these preferences can provide clarity and guidance during difficult times, ensuring their wishes are honored.

Power of Attorney. A Power of Attorney allows your adult child to appoint someone (again, usually you) to manage their financial affairs if they cannot do so. Managing can include paying bills, managing bank accounts, and handling investments. With this document, you might find it easier to step in and help when needed.

It may also be necessary for your adult child to have a plan in place for what happens after death. If that’s the case, they need a will or trust. Reach out to me, and I can educate you and your child on whether post-death planning is necessary at this stage in your child’s life. 

Finally, life circumstances will change, so let your child know it’s essential to review their documents regularly and update them as needed. Encourage your young adult to revisit their decisions periodically, especially if they experience significant life changes such as getting married, moving to a new state, or starting a new job. At my firm, constant contact is part of our process, so our clients never have to remember to update their plans independently. We do the remembering for you. 

Your Next Step

Now that you have three strategies for navigating your child’s transition into adulthood, your next step is to book an appointment with our firm so we can support you in having these conversations and putting your child’s legal plan in place. 

Before you think that you don’t need an attorney and can use a cheap online tool or even AI, I encourage you to think about what’s at stake. Your child’s health and well-being. Your child’s growth. The opportunity to teach your child how to prioritize the things that matter most. When I work with you, one of the best things I can do is to get to know your children as they become adults. Ideally, it will be me (or my firm) that they’ll turn to for guidance throughout their lifetime and to be there for them when you can’t. No cheap legal plan can do that. 

The Support You and Your Child Need

We know that navigating the transition to adulthood can be challenging for you and your child. Understanding the legal changes that come with turning 18 and using the three legal documents (and the conversations that go with them) in this article can help you provide the support and guidance your child needs. But you don’t need to navigate this transition alone. We can educate you and your child about their new legal responsibilities, support you to have hard conversations, and help your child implement a legal plan. 

Schedule a 15-minute call to learn how our Life & Legacy Planning process can help your family make the best decisions about the things that matter most.

Contact us today to get started.

This article is a service of Ashley DeBoard, a Personal Family Lawyer® Firm. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. 

The content is sourced from Personal Family Lawyer® for use by Personal Family Lawyer® firms, a source believed to be providing accurate information. This material was created for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as ERISA, tax, legal, or investment advice. If you are seeking legal advice specific to your needs, such advice services must be obtained on your own separate from this educational material.