18 and Out: A checklist to prepare your child to be a legal, adult citizen

Adulthood, as we all know, is about paperwork. At 18, our children reach the age of adulthood and independence. Legally, that means any contract they sign is now legit, they can be named in a law suit, and they get the more routine responsibilities of completing their own medical forms, taxes, and reams of other check boxes and signature lines.

You may have prepared your child for adulthood by helping them to be an emotionally resilient, well-educated and adjusted kid—but have you prepped them for the paperwork required to be a legal adult citizen?

This checklist will help you start your child’s adult paper trail off right, with reminders about legal obligations and information every new adult should know. Encourage your child to:

checklist to prepare your child for legal adulthoodMemorize their own Social Security number.

Quick, what’s _ _ _ – _ _ – _ _ _ _? Advise your child to store their nine digits in their head, not in their cell phone or on a card in their wallet—lest someone steal the info and start opening credit cards in their name. The numbers should be shared only for authorized requests, like to their employer or financial institutions for tax reasons. If their information is stolen, they can view the Federal Trade Commission’s online identity theft resources or call 877-IDTHEFT.

checklist to prepare your child for legal adulthoodRegister to vote.

It’s a milestone, and your child shouldn’t miss their first opportunity to set the rules of society and choose representatives. Rock the Vote is a youth-friendly place to register. Remind your child, there’s more than just a presidential election, and the local decisions (city council reps, school levies) will often have much more impact on their daily lives than who is in the White House.

checklist to prepare your child for legal adulthoodKnow their health insurance information.

With changes to health care coverage, it’s possible your child will stay on the family insurance until they are 26. However, they should know the insurance information and when their coverage expires. For an extensive, easy-to-use health insurance tool kit developed specifically for young people, visit gettingcovered.org.

checklist to prepare your child for legal adulthoodMark April 15 on their calendar.

Tax time—an unquestionable anniversary of adulthood. Young people should know the reason for paying taxes and how to do it. The IRS offers an online area to help students understand their legal obligation to pay taxes, before they file for the first time. Remind your child that there’s state and city taxes, too, not just federal.

checklist to prepare your child for legal adulthoodKnow how to access their own records.

This is school records, medical records, and juvenile justice records. Get copies of school transcripts and diploma, as well as their birth certificate and the medical records from their childhood pediatrician, and put them into a nicely wrapped fireproof box for their 18th birthday. Medical offices usually will transfer records to another doctor’s office for free as a professional courtesy, but often will charge you for copies. Having your own copy of records can be valuable if your child ever has a serious illness or an insurance dispute. Also, if your child has been in trouble in the past, make sure they know their rights as an adult, and the status of information about their past involvement in juvenile justice. Our justice system typically gives kids another chance, and wipes the slate at 18. But don’t assume it happens without action; often, you need to make a court request that the child’s records be sealed. Check to be sure.

checklist to prepare your child for legal adulthoodGet a valid ID, and a passport.

Most likely, your child has a legal driver’s license already. Remind them about renewing it, and break the bad news that they are not yet old enough in most places to rent a car on their own. Also, help your child with the purchase cost of a passport. It will be valid through their early adulthood, and is needed for many forms of travel.

checklist to prepare your child for legal adulthoodStart investing.

You gave them a piggy bank as a school-age child so they could learn to save; now get them started investing. Some parents charge modest rent for a child who stays at home after graduating high school, and then put all that money into a “future fund” for the child. This also is a good start to the assets your child will need to prove to a lender when they decide to buy a home. Consult your financial planner on the right approach.

checklist to prepare your child for legal adulthoodPut a five, ten and twenty year plan down on paper.

Life never works out the way you plan, but a child with a vision can be more focused on their goals, and make better decisions.

checklist to prepare your child for legal adulthoodDevelop a roommate-proof organizational system.

If your child is moving out to live with friends or other students, help them develop a system for keeping track of their bills, legal obligations, and all paperwork, regardless of what chaos is happening around them.

checklist to prepare your child for legal adulthoodUnderstand their role in your paperwork.

Is your child the executor of your will? Are they named in your life insurance policy? Do they know where your information is, and what their responsibilities are? Also, if you want to make things easier on them in the event of your passing, have an advance directive—preferably a health care power of attorney (a document that lets someone you trust make health decisions for you if you can’t speak for yourself) and a living will (a document that states your preferences about life support treatments), as well as a documented conversation about all other end-of-life decisions, like hospice care, religious rituals or ceremonies, funeral or wake arrangements, and so on. It may bother you to talk about these topics with your child, but you do not want them to face those decisions alone without knowing your preferences.

Becoming a legal adult means new responsibilities. When parents take the time to address these common paperwork obligations with their child, it can ease their passage into a new phase of life, and reduce confusion as they set out on their own.


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