‘Adult Paperwork:’ A Must for Our Newly Minted 18-Year-Old Adults

I can generally tell when our youngest child’s birthday is nearing by the battle between my husband and me regarding whether or not it’s time to turn on our heat. For some time now, on the dry-erase board that houses a variety of lists (to-do, to buy, to remember, to pretend), the phrase “Print Adult Paperwork” has loomed.

When I first wrote it, it was for a time well into the future and for an event that I laughed off with a wave. Today, that necessity is here, and I’m not laughing. Okay, I’m still laughing a bit, but mostly, I’m all over the parental emotional map. Tears? Yes. Nostalgia? Yes. Pride? Yes. Laughter? Yes. Panic? Yes. But I suppose the most consistent feeling is, “Oh, that was not enough time! Just a little more, please!

When teens turn 18, they must sign legal documents to protect them in an emergency. (Shutterstock: Monkey Business Images)

Our son just turned 18

Two days ago, our youngest child hit the magical age of eighteen. Of course, that shift is a blurry one as we woke up the following day to find that this boy (all boy) still hadn’t cleaned his room, left fresh whiskers on the bathroom sink, couldn’t find his misplaced canoe-sized sneakers, was ravenous (well, yeah, he slept through both breakfast and brunch), and had yet to firm up a job for the current school year (the one that started ten weeks ago). 

Adult? Kind of. My husband and I are confidently prepared for the coming rounds of “I’m an adult now!” 

This is thanks to our oldest child and various previous practices perfecting conversation-canceling responses. What worked best? Oh, that’s simple. In response to that “I’m an adult” pushback, we ask, “Perfect! Tell us about all the adult things you are doing, and maybe we can talk about canceling curfew.” 

What always comes next is a concise list (from the child) that we (the parents) counter with things like “Aren’t you still eating our food for free, living in our home at no cost, enjoying an allowance, utilizing each of our insurance plans and…do you want us to go on? No? Ah, maybe not quite fully adulting yet, then.

In our home, turning into an ‘adult’ doesn’t mean you can now disrespect your parents

I know that sounds harsh, but in our home, being an adult doesn’t come with a coupon to treat your family with less respect. So, yes, I am fully aware that we are about to embark on a final round of curfew controversy, location services debates, dinner attendance pushback, and more.

But that Adult Paperwork? Not up for discussion.  

When I wrote “Print Adult Paperwork” on the whiteboard, I had no idea our youngest knew what that meant. I assumed his sibling had told him about it with a gigantic eye-roll three years ago when it was their turn.

Last week, my son flopped onto the couch in my office and asked, with the snark of a seventeen-year-old proclaiming personal offense, “So what is this Adult Paperwork? What does that even mean?” 

And so I explained in my softest voice that life can sometimes go sideways in a flash and that we, his parents, would soon need his permission to advocate for him. Soon, the printer was grinding out the paperwork, and we would sign those pages before delivering them to our safety deposit box. 

Why should parents insist on ‘Adult Paperwork?’

So, what is Adult Paperwork? And why must you insist on it? And will your child flip the heck out when asked to sign? Maybe. Make it palatable by showing them your own (Dear Lord, please have your own).

Did you know that if, after turning 18, your child becomes ill or hospitalized, you lose the right to information regarding their situation?

The paperwork you need when your child turns 18

1. HIPAA Authorization

The instant your child turns 18, you lose the right, as a parent, to gain access to (or make decisions about) their healthcare. No big deal, right? You didn’t want to attend any more vaccinations or physicals anyway.

Your child may suddenly just “go dark” while at college. You may think they are out making new friends or deep into studying … and then … a phone call from the school informs you that there is a medical issue. Imagine calling the hospital frantically, only to be told that they cannot give you any details because this child, your child, is an adult by law.

Perhaps your child has had a mental breakdown. Perhaps they are in surgery. Perhaps they are in a coma. You are lost, devastated, terrified…and cannot get in. 

The HIPAA Authorization is your key to that medical door. 

2. Advanced Medical Directive/Living Will 

End-of-life decisions are a horrible thing to have to think about, especially when it comes to our children. How could we ever face a doctor asking us if our child had preferences on organ donation or final wishes?

Baby adults are reckless, perhaps the most reckless of all adults. Accidents do happen. Illnesses do arrive. End-of-life preferences are horrible to think about, yet we must, as parents, talk to our children about them. Until your child finds a life partner, honoring their last wishes will be in your hands. 

The Advanced Medical Directive offers you the ability to give that gift.

3. Power of Attorney

Many are quite familiar with this document but do not use it for fear that someone will swoop inappropriately. The POA is not like a free pass or coupon to be waived for use. Receivers do not accept the POA willy-nilly; it is accepted only for specific situations. 

We want nothing more, as parents, than for our baby adults to make responsible decisions all by their baby adult selves. Should they become unable to (for medical reasons, not because they are just, well, you know … ), we, as parents, will likely be next in line–but we can only be next in line with a POA. 

The Power of Attorney appoints you as a decision-making agent for your child.​​​​​​​​​​

Hoping nothing bad happens won’t prevent something from happening

Thinking “That won’t happen to us” will not prevent tragic events from happening. Right now, in the hospital closest to you, an Intensive Care Unit is full of people who also thought it would never happen to them. I used to think that as well, actually. Then my brother was in a horrific accident, and the “who is in control here” arguments erupted almost immediately. We are still dealing with the fallout of those arguments nearly a decade later, though my brother did survive.

The simple truth is that you cannot ignore the reality that extraordinarily terrible events happen. Is it morbid? Yes. Will you feel nosy placing these forms before your newly minted adult? Probably. Will your newly minted adult think you are in their business? For sure.

Are these forms critical? YES.

If you are still thinking, “Okay, but my child would never keep health issues from me or block me from access…” try again for two reasons: a) yes, they would; b) they especially would if they are incapacitated.

Lightning did strike twice in our home when our eldest child had a mental health crisis. When they signed these forms, they weren’t happy about it. We had no idea that a few short years later, we would need those documents to start getting them well successfully. I have zero doubt that without that ability, our lives would have taken a much different and sad turn.

Some other arguments that are about to erupt in your now-full-of-adults household?

  • Curfew: Yes, it will still be enforced. More flexibility? Sure. But my mom-senses do not allow me to sleep until I know everyone coming home is home. 
  • Location Services: Turned on, period. Do I really care where my child is? Typically not. Honestly, I’m too lazy to check. But if things do go sideways, we need to be able to track that last location. If my child pushes back? I mean, sadly, I can turn on the news to show them just how sideways things can go.
  • Dinner RSVPs: This is where we differ from many families, but we insist on a heads-up if any of our at-home children will not be home for dinner. We love a family dinner at the table. We do not love cooking a family dinner only to have the family not show up without notice. Food is expensive. My time? Even more valuable. 

Raising children is not easy. When do they cross that magical line to adulthood? Also, not easy. It comes quickly, and we are often surprised at how unprepared we are to watch them leave the nest. Our children will tell us differently, but we are still their boss in a different form.

In the matter of a health crisis? This is crucial.

More Great Reading:

The Legal Documents You Need When Your Child Turns 18

Mama Bear Legal Forms: Follow the Grown and Flown link and get 20% off your needed documents. (Editor’s note: We have used Mama Bear’s Legal forms. It was easy, quick, and inexpensive. Grown and Flown is an affiliate)

About Jyl Barlow

Jyl Barlow is a best-selling author raising two baby adults with her husband in Virginia. Her book, What to Expect When You Weren’t Expecting, is a humorous memoir documenting her step parenting journey. Jyl navigates life as a (second)wife and (step)mom with inappropriate laughter and near-perfect hindsight.

Besides writing, Jyl enjoys travel, fighting with her embroidery machine, and trying to convince her husband to let her have chickens. Jyl’s writing credits also include FunnyPearls.com, Today.com, and WhichWaysUp.blog. Get to know her at JylBarlow.com.

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