My daughter turned 18 earlier this month. My oldest. My first baby became my first adult child.
The minute she awoke, I went into her room (normally a felony offense around the King household) and greeted her with a hearty “Happy Birthday!” (literally tempting fate at 6:36AM on a school day). I followed with “you’re all grown up! An adult!”. First, she pointed out that she wasn’t technically 18 just yet - she was born at 4:41PM.
Then she said “Besides. All it means is now I can be tried as an adult for a crime”. I LOVE my daughter’s sarcastic (pragmatic) outlook on the world. Besides, she’s not really wrong. How many of us see our 18 year old high school kids as full fledged adults?
We see our baby; others see a legal adult
A child turning 18 is an important planning consideration for any family but particularly for a military family receiving VA benefits.
After sending the kids out the door for school, I logged into my VA.GOV account to check on my daughter’s status as my dependent. Whoever runs the Division for Cutting off Benefits the Second a Child Turns 18, is the master of all things efficiency. By 7:21AM on my daughter’s 18th birthday, the VA had booted her off my record as a dependent.
I used the online tool to submit a form to “add a beneficiary between the ages of 18 and 23 and still in school”. I’ll need to go through this process again in just a few months since she will graduate from high school. (In case you are wondering, it will take the VA about a week to review my application and who knows how long to turn the benefit back on…where was this sort of efficiency when it came to turning off the benefit?)
Updating my VA file was the ONE thing I could do on my own to address a change resulting from my daughter turning 18. Everything else required her to take action. In the succeeding days, I helped her:
Update her bank accounts and set up her own login credentials;
Set up her own identity protection/ monitoring account that she manages now;
Contact her healthcare provider to complete a HIPPA release form
Seek legal advice on establishing an advance directive and durable power of attorney
None of the organizations/ individuals above would have talked with me without my daughter’s consent, and rightfully so. The line to adulthood and your own privacy as an adult has to be drawn somewhere and, for many things, the line is brightly drawn at age 18.
…But don’t end there
This is a relatively short checklist and only a starting point. There are additional details that might be important for your family’s specific situation.
For example, if you are receiving a pension and elected the Survivor Benefit Option for your children, be aware that if you pass away, only your child(ren) under age 18 or your child(ren) under age 22 and still full time students are entitled to a portion of your pension. Hopefully this is not a surprise, but take a look across your financial picture to ensure no other changes are necessary.
You may also want to revisit your own estate planning documents to determine whether any updates are necessary as a result of your child becoming an adult.
Not everything changes at 18
Not everything changes when your child turns 18. There are some things that could remain in place until your adult child is older. If you set up a UGMA or UTMA account for your child, you may remain in control of the account until the child reaches the age of majority for the state in which the account was established. (In Maryland the age of majority for a UGMA is 18 but for the UTMA it's 21).
Your child can remain on your health insurance as long as they meet other qualifying criteria. And you can continue to claim your child as a dependent on your tax return as long as they meet the dependency requirements.
Set a good example; set a good foundation
Whether your 18 year old is about to set off for college, trade school, the military, or the workforce, help them through, at a minimum, the list above. Also, take a moment to ensure your family is financially prepared to help them with their next step (if such help fits your family’s philosophy). Whether you’re funding a college or trade school education or providing financial support in other ways, it’s always a good idea to ensure you understand the impact of this financial goal on your other goals.
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