Below the Beltway

So, You’re 18 – Top Legal Issues Facing Young Adults

Read here about some of the top legal issues that all young adults – and their parents – should be aware of.

By Paul J. Dean, Esquire

Alexandria, VA – This is an exciting phase of life for you, the newly minted 18-year-old, filled with high school graduation, plans to head off to college or enter the workforce, and celebrating new freedoms. It can also be an anxious time for parents, as having your child reach the “age of majority” brings on new rights – and responsibilities. Here are some of the top legal issues that all young adults – and their parents – should be aware of.

Advanced Medical Directives and Powers of Attorney

Once you reach the age of 18, you become the beneficiary of basic privacy protections and the ability to manage your own financial and medical affairs. Parents lose the legal authority to manage these aspects of their children’s lives. This can lead to complications if you become incapacitated and can no longer make your own decisions, so it is critical that every young adult execute an Advanced Medical Directive and a Durable Power of Attorney document.

These documents allow you to designate your parents or another legal adult to manage your medical care and financial affairs if a medical emergency leaves you unable to make your own decisions. This is especially important if you’re headed off to college or moving out on your own for the first time. Contact a qualified attorney to ensure these documents are properly prepared.

Contracts, leases, and other legal documents

Everyday conveniences such as Netflix and Amazon carry their own sets of rules by which users must abide, including paying on time. (Photo: jumpstory)

In Virginia and most other jurisdictions, at the age of majority (18), individuals can enter into legally binding transactions, such as signing contracts, entering into leases, subscribing to various services (Netflix, Amazon, smartphone contracts, etc.). As a young adult, you must enter into these contracts with full knowledge of your obligations under these contracts, and of course, a complete understanding of the consequences of failing to meet those obligations.

Breach of contract can result in costly damages and, as an adult, you can be sued in court, just like anyone else. On the other hand, you now have the right to sue others or press any other type of legal action if you feel you have been wronged in some way. You are also eligible to be called for jury duty. Don’t ignore those jury notices if you receive them in the mail!

Credit Issues

Another essential item to remember is that as an 18-year-old, you now have your own credit record! It will be tempting to sign up for your first credit card or enter into other financial transactions that require credit checks. Companies are eager to establish long-term relationships with young adults but offer no quarter when it comes to ruining a credit record if payments aren’t made in a timely matter.

Your credit report and score are critical components of your ability to take out a loan, purchase a vehicle, buy a house, or enter into many other financial transactions. Make sure you make those payments on time and don’t get in over your head!

Criminal Law, Alcohol Rules, and Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

Turning 18 brings a whole new world of promise and potential and certain rights and responsibilities. (Photo: jumpstory)

Now that you’re 18, if you break the law, you are subject to prosecution as an adult, and those crimes can become part of your permanent criminal record.

In most cases, if you are under 18, criminal law matters are handled through the Juvenile and Domestic Court systems, where penalties are typically not as severe, and your records are sealed. But once you are 18, you are fully responsible for any criminal laws you break, just like any other adult. Be careful out there!

In addition, be aware that the drinking age in Virginia is still 21. Young adults are still considered minors for the purposes of possessing and consuming alcoholic beverages. If you are under 21, you can be subject to criminal prosecution, fines, and even jail time for illegal possession of alcohol.

Your parents can be subject to criminal prosecution for providing alcohol to minor children and their friends, even in the safety of their own home. Any adult should avoid providing alcohol to anyone under the age of 21.

Know your responsibilities! If you’re under 21, even the slightest bit of alcohol in your system can carry serious consequences. (Photo: jumpstory)

As for DUI, the Commonwealth of Virginia takes a zero-tolerance approach for anyone under 21. The legal limit for driving under the influence for anyone over 21 is a blood alcohol level of .08. But if you are under 21, if you have any alcohol in your system while driving (defined as .02 – that’s one beer!), you can be arrested for DUI and face steep fines, up to 50 hours of community service, and suspension of your license for a full year.

Marijuana Use

As of July 1, 2021, the use, possession, and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana in a private residence was decriminalized in Virginia for adults over the age of 21. Like alcohol, if you are under 21, it is still illegal to possess and consume marijuana. If caught, you can be subject to criminal prosecution!

The Commonwealth also takes a zero-tolerance approach for anyone using marijuana and operating a motor vehicle, no matter their age. For more information about the new marijuana laws in Virginia, I urge everyone to visit this website:

Selective Service

Finally, when males reach the age of 18, they are required by law to register for the Selective Service to make them eligible to be drafted into the military. Currently, there is no draft in place, but 18-year-old males must still register! You can do this through the mail (you should receive the forms) or on the Social Security website at


Heading off to college is a great launching pad into adulthood. Be sure you’re ready legally with an Advanced Medical Directive and a Durable Power of Attorney document, so everyone has peace of mind. (Photo: jumpstory)

The Virginia State Bar offers excellent resources for young adults that discuss their new legal rights and obligations. Visit for more information for young adults and their parents. Also, see Z-TV’s episode of Legal Matters, “So You’re 18” (premiered June 16, 2021), on our Facebook page and YouTube channel.

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