Congratulations to you, the Class of 2021, the thousands of new high school graduates in our area this year, and your families! Whether you are heading to college, a first apartment, a new job or the military, there are important legal documents everyone over 18 should have. A Forbes magazine article – “You’ve Turned 18, Now What?” — explains what you need now.

That’s right. Part of “Adulting” is talking to a lawyer.

That’s because once you are eighteen, your parent is no longer able make health care decisions for you, or even talk to a doctor or other medical provider without your specific authorization. Not even if you are in an accident, an assault, or come down with a sudden serious illness. Not to freak you out, but when the Virginia Tech mass shooting took place in 2007, the closest hospitals were quickly overwhelmed, and victims were carried to other trauma centers miles away. Even when families found their loved ones, some relatives were told they could not get any information due to privacy laws designed to protect health confidentiality. You can address this with a basic legal document everyone over 18 needs, as the article outlines.

And, not to be “Debbie Downer” here, but medical decisions aren’t the only ones hamstrung in the event of a serious injury or illness. I know a man in Richmond who was having the time of his life as a young adult on a skiing trip when he accidentally skied into a tree, causing a serious head injury. He was unable to make any business or financial decisions on his own for a time until someone he chose – his mother – was legally authorized to act for him. That’s what a power of attorney can do for you – allow a trusted person such as a parent, legal guardian or older sibling to make important decisions if you become incapacitated. This is one of the essential documents every adult should have. Lacking one is one of the big mistakes people make legally.

Here’s another shocker. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education – and that’s most of them.

FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children’s education records. These rights transfer to you, the student, when you turn 18 or attend post-secondary education. Discuss this with a parent or responsible adult in your life. Without a FERPA release, your parents may be authorized to send many thousands of dollars to your school, but may not be able to discuss your status at the school with officials there, or ask your school to correct records which they believe are inaccurate.

These forms are more than something you just download off of the internet. They are important legal documents that impact you as a new adult, and you deserve a chance to be counseled about their meaning and in many instances, customized to your particular situation. If possible, speak to an experienced estate planning attorney about them.

If you have a family lawyer who is experienced in these matters, by all means ask to talk to her or him. If not, ask around for someone who is an estate planner. The process doesn’t have too difficult or expensive. Many attorneys will do them for young people at a very modest cost, especially for the children of existing clients. Ask your attorney about this.

And remember: under state bar ethics rules, no matter whether you or your parent pays the fee, you are the client. The attorney will need to respect your wishes and confidentiality.

Whoever you use, you or your parent can stay up on this and other areas of the law but signing up for out newsletter or following our blog at  And if we can help, give us a call.