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Legally an adult: What to know when your child turns 18

The child formerly known as your baby has just turned 18. In the eyes of the law, things change once your child is of legal age. Suddenly parents are left out of decisions and parts of their child’s life even though they may still be supporting him.

Mom and teen son

When your child turns 18, he doesn’t magically assume the role of adult in your eyes. Most teens turn 18 during their senior year of high school, when the majority of 18-year-olds are still supported by their parents and living at home. While you may still see a child who leaves socks on the floor and forgets to take out the trash, your child is now legally an adult.

What does the law say?

Ben Luftman is a criminal defense attorney in Columbus, Ohio who has seen many 18-year-old potential clients walk through his doors. “There is a major change legally once a child is of legal age,” Luftman says. “In most states, if a minor is charged with a juvenile offense, a parent or legal guardian is required to attend court hearings with their child. Parents are often asked for input on their child’s overall temperament, potential substance abuse issues, attendance and performance in school and level of maturity.”

Once your child has turned 18, she will be charged as an adult for even minor offenses. Luftman adds, “The parent is no longer required to be there, and they often do not know their child has been charged. They are often left out of the decision-making process with respect to their child’s case.” Talk to your teens about their legal rights and what they should know if they are ever arrested. Your guidance and experience will still be valuable to them — even if they aren’t legally required to include you. Luftman always tells potential 18-year-old clients, “The shame you may feel or your mom or dad’s disappointment is temporary, the decision that you make with your case could be permanent. If you are unsure of what to do, you should speak to and get guidance from your parents.”

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Medical concerns

Most 18-year-olds can still be included on your family’s medical insurance policy, but here’s where things get tricky. Your access to medical information about your adult child is limited by HIPAA privacy rules. Hallie Hawkins, J.D. is one of the founders of Get it Together, a company that provides workshops and independent financial and legal education. Hawkins recommends that parents obtain a Healthcare Power of Attorney (HCPOA). “This is especially important if your adult child has chronic illnesses, but it is an important item to have in emergency situations,” says Hawkins. “Make sure your adult child gives a copy of the HCPOA to their primary doctor wherever they are.”

What about financial issues?

Most 18-year-olds have their own bank accounts and debit cards, but is your name on the account? If not, you will no longer be able to access the account, even in an emergency. Hawkins also recommends a Financial Power of Attorney for parents of older teens. “Unless you are [listed] on a bank account, you can’t get banking information,” she shares. “For example, my daughter was going to be using her credit card overseas and forgot to tell the bank. I was able to go into the bank here with the Financial Power of Attorney and inform them of her travels so her card would be valid and would not be turned down. It was much easier for me to do this here in our local bank rather than having her do this overseas.”

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The key to staying informed about your older teen’s activities is to keep the lines of communication open. They may technically be adults now, but they still need a bit of advice and guidance now and then.

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