Steps to Take When Your Child or Grandchild Turns 18
by A. Scott White, CFP®, ChFC, CLU
President, Scott White Advisors
Turning 18 is an important occasion for your child or grandchild. The importance goes far beyond a sentimental moment in time for parents and a point when graduates are looking forward to the next chapter in their life. Turning 18 means new legal freedoms, breaking the chains of parental oppression and supervision, and the freedom of making one’s own decisions. Some of those decisions, such as getting a tattoo, a body piercing or purchasing tobacco, can have a lifelong impact. Today teens can vote, buy a house and marry a high school sweetheart all without asking for your consent. While these new freedoms are welcomed by our teens, they come with the possibility of going to jail, getting sued or gambling away their college tuition.
Since my son and daughter each turned 18 in the past couple of years, this topic is still fresh in my mind. I do not know if I have much parental advice to offer about how to navigate this milestone, but I can offer some professional advice I insisted both of my children adhere to in order to keep our family’s legal affairs in order. Except for registering for the military draft, which was mandatory and only required of my son, these tips for children turning 18 are voluntary. They are also aimed at teaching children to be independent and responsible.
The first thing my wife and I did after each child turned 18 was to change the title on their vehicles. Prior to turning 18, the autos were in my name or my wife’s name because minors are not allowed to take title. But that is no longer the case because now each is considered an adult. So why would I want to send my children off to college so they can, despite my best advice, drive around in a new town with who knows who in the car with them after participating in who knows what kind of activities in an automobile that is registered to me? I’m not in favor of that, so we changed the titles and registered the automobiles in their respective names. While my wife and I hope to never find out the level of protection we might receive from this change, it provides a great opportunity to teach our children to be responsible for all the things they own. They are also now responsible for the maintenance of their vehicles. My wife and I might still help financially to some extent, but it is not our responsibility to know when to change the oil, tires, wiper blades, etc. A word of caution here, when you change title to your children, some auto insurance companies will kick your children off your existing family automobile coverage plan and force them to purchase their own insurance plan, resulting in much higher premiums. Because not all insurance companies have the same policy and many companies offer a family rate even if the children have title to their own automobile, be prepared to shop for a new auto insurance company if necessary.
Another area of concern comes in the form of federal privacy laws, particularly concerning health issues. While your children are under 18 you are responsible for their healthcare. After your children reach 18 they are responsible for their own healthcare. This means you no longer have the power to access their medical records, consult with their physicians, give consent for medical treatment, or even decide if it is time to remove them from life support systems. I had a client learn firsthand how serious the medical profession takes privacy laws when her son was involved in a traffic accident out of state and she was denied access to the doctors handling his hospital care. To avoid such a difficult situation for my children, I asked each child right after their 18th birthday to go to our family’s estate planning attorney and prepare their own Living Will and Health Care Advance Directives. In these documents each child authorizes my wife and me to have the power to consult with their doctors and make healthcare decisions on their behalf if the child is unable.
Also, since I’m going to end up paying the attorney’s fees anyway, I told my children to ask the attorney to explain what a durable power of attorney document is and to make sure to name both my wife and me as their agent. This way if either of our children were unable to manage their financial affairs, like signing their tax return, challenging landlords in legal proceedings, or selling their vehicle, my wife and I would have the power to do it on their behalf. And by the way, I sent both of my children to the attorney’s office by themselves—but I did discuss it with our attorney beforehand.
These are things I did when my children turned 18, but it is never too late to take action if you already have a child or grandchild over 18. Do yourself and your child a favor and take care of these tasks now, and hope it never comes back to haunt you if you didn’t. I have seen it come back to haunt others, so don’t let it happen to you or your family.
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