A Brief Legal Guide
The first steps into adulthood are an exciting yet confusing time, as it comes with several new legal considerations. As such, it is vital to get an early start on learning about what changes when adulthood begins. If you or a loved one are set to become an adult, now is a good time to go over some of the legal changes that come during this important time.
Reaching the Age of Majority
The “age of majority” is a term used to describe a point in time after which a person is legally no longer considered a child. In the past, the age of majority was set at 21 in most states. But after the 1971 ratification of the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving 18-year-olds the right to vote in federal elections, most states lowered their age of majority to 18.1 When one reaches the age of majority, they gain several rights, including the right to: 2 3
- Make a will.
- Enter a legally binding contract.
- Vote in federal, state, and local elections.
- Marry without written consent or a parent (or guardian) and a judge.
- Join the military without parental consent.
- Inherit property outright.
- Buy or sell property, including real estate and stock.
Of course, turning 18 also means that you have several new legal responsibilities as well. As a legal adult, you are responsible for your actions, meaning that if you violate any law, you will be charged as an adult. You can be selected for jury duty, and if you are a male, you are legally required to register with the Selective Service System within 30 days of turning 18.4
Privacy & Medical Issues
While there are plenty of advantages to being legally recognized as an adult, the change can also create challenges. This is especially true when it comes to healthcare and medical treatment. For one, once you reach a certain (usually 18), you will no longer be eligible for the pediatric care you previously received, and in some cases, you will need to find a new healthcare provider altogether. To assist with this transition, it is recommended that you check out Got Transition, a federally funded national resource center on health care transition that is designed to improve the transition from pediatric to adult health care.5
Along with the shift into adult healthcare, another major medical concern once you become an adult is dealing with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. HIPAA is a federal law that led to the creation of national standards designed to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without their consent or knowledge.6 One of the possible drawbacks of these standards is that your parents lose access to much of your medical information when you reach adulthood. This can potentially create problems as if you are seriously ill or injured and unable to advocate for yourself, your parents could be denied information about your condition or prognosis. To avoid such scenarios, you should fill out a HIPAA Authorization Form at the earliest opportunity, granting anyone that you trust the permission to access your information. Even if you don’t want to give your parents access to your health information, you still grant access to other family members or even close friends.
Other Important Legal Documents
Once you are legally an adult, you gain the ability to write several important legal documents designed to protect your personal and financial wellbeing. While 18 might seem a bit early to consider things like this, it is never too early to plan for your future. As such, you should consider creating one of each of the following:
- Power of Attorney: A document that designates an agent to make important legal and financial decisions on your behalf.1 It is typically used so that you have someone who can step in and pay your bills or handle other financial or real estate matters when you are unable to do so.
- Medical Power of Attorney: An advanced healthcare directive that explains how you want medical decisions to be made on your behalf, assigning an agent to make decisions based on your wishes.4
- Living Will: A document that sets specific instructions regarding medical procedures and post-care routines, including whether you would like life-sustaining medical treatments.6 Often used in combination with a Medical Power of Attorney.
- FERPA Release Form: A documents that grants parents access to your student education records after they turn 18 or enter a postsecondary institution.8
- Will: A document that covers your wishes for who does and does not receive your various assets after your death.10
The Future Is Yours!
The transition to adulthood can be a difficult one, especially with so many legal and medical matters to consider, but with some preparation, the process can be smooth and simple. Of course, if you have any further questions on your newfound legal considerations as an adult, you should consider contacting the professionals at CCSK Law! You can contact us at SUPPORT@CCSKLAW.COM or (219) 230-3600.
1. U.S. Const. amend. 26
2. The Law Dictionary. (2020, November 23). What can you do at 18 legally? The Law Dictionary. https://thelawdictionary.org/article/what-you-can-legally-do-when-youre-18/.
3. Kagan, J. (2021, June 9). Testamentary Will. Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/t/testamentary-will.asp.
4. The Law Dictionary.
5. GotTransition.org. (n.d.). Got Transition. https://www.gottransition.org/. 6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, September 14). Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/phlp/publications/topic/hipaa.html