Knowledge and Insights

Turning 18 – What Does It Mean?

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18-year-olds are granted many privileges upon their birthday. It’s like turning a switch and the world considers them an adult.  This new found status can be exciting and a little scary.

Eighteen-year-olds can own property outright, vote in an election, serve on a jury, get married, get a tattoo, gamble, and enter into binding contracts all without the oversight or consent of their parents or guardians.

Law enforcement and the judicial system immediately confers adult status at the age of 18 and the opportunity to use “I’m just a kid” as a defense will no longer apply.

In addition to registering to vote, young men turning 18 must also register for the draft within 30 days of their birthday.  Failure to do so could subject them to a $250,000 fine and adversely impact access to student loans and government employment.

With the conferring of rights to the 18-year-old, parental rights are eliminated.  Parents lose their right to access their child’s medical and academic records, exercise financial management, and make decisions on their child’s behalf – even if their child still qualifies as a dependent for tax purposes.  If your son or daughter finds themselves injured or disabled – making medical or financial decisions for them will require their explicit consent or court approval – scary huh?

If your son or daughter is reaching that milestone, here are a few things you may want to discuss and consider putting in place once that all too important birthday arrives:

  • Have your 18year-old child sign a durable power of attorney naming you as their agent able to make and transact financial decisions on their behalf;
  • Have your 18-year-old child execute a healthcare proxy (healthcare power of attorney), which authorizes you to make healthcare decisions on their behalf;
  • Be sure your son registers timely with the U.S. Selective Service within 30 days of his 18th It can be done at the post office or online at www.sss.gov;
  • If your teen is attending college or other advanced training programs, become familiar with the school’s policy on access to student academic records and have your student sign necessary consents to provide access;
  • Have the money talk. Talk to your teen about money management, cash flow and budgeting. A great resource is the book, “Why Didn’t They Teach Me This in School?,” by Cary Siegel;
  • Be sure to educate your emerging adult on their new adult status from a legal perspective. State Bar associations in our region provide informative booklets to help educate young adults on their legal status:
    • The New Jersey State Bar (NJSB) Foundation has an informative publication called “Turning 18 in New Jersey,” available on the NJSBFoundation  website at nisbf.org;
    • The New York Bar Association’s publication is “Now That you’ve Turned 18” and is available at nysba.org;
    • The Allegheny Bar Association in Pennsylvania has a brochure and an interactive website that highlights the legal issues and responsibilities when turning 18; go to abca.org.

Turning 18 is an incredible milestone; it also is a shift in rights and responsibilities that can take parents and teens by surprise.  Don’t be unprepared when your child turns 18.

If you have any questions about this article, or your individual or family’s financial matters, please feel free to contact me at mmount@mercadien.com or 609-689-9700.