By Rachel Schromen
As an estate attorney, I help many new parents create wills and trusts to make sure they have a plan for their children’s future. When those children turn 18, it’s time for a different round of planning.
Parents at this stage in their child’s life are embracing all the excitement that comes with choosing a college or a future career, making prom plans, thinking about a summer job or an epic road trip with friends, and mostly take it for granted that their children will lead long, healthy lives. Unfortunately, sometimes the unthinkable happens. Your child may face major health issues or an accident, and it’s important to plan for them.
Because even though you might see remnants of a gap-toothed 7-year-old, and they still might not know how to pick up their own socks or make their own doctor’s appointments, the rest of the world looks at your kid and sees an adult when they have their 18th birthday.
What Happens When Your Child Turns 18?
When your child legally turns into an adult, you can’t direct medical care or make fiduciary decisions on their behalf should they become incapacitated unless they have legal documents in place that allow you to protect them.
That’s why, as you make plans for your teen’s 18th birthday celebration, I suggest adding another gift to the list. Along with new sneakers or a coveted tech device, help your teen with some basic estate planning.
Recent high school graduates should have the following:
1) Power of Attorney.
If a young person gets into an accident, it is important that someone can legally manage their financial and/or legal affairs on their behalf. Once a person turns 18 (in most states), parents can no longer manage their finances without a Power of Attorney in place. Without a properly drafted and executed Power of Attorney, parents may have to go through the legal process of becoming a court-appointed guardian to provide such support to their child over the age of 18. The process can be lengthy and expensive, and it’s not something you want to deal with if you’re already trying to cope with an emergency.
2) Health Care Directive.
Like the Power of Attorney, a Health Care Directive allows a person over the age of 18 to appoint an authorized agent to make medical decisions on their behalf. Parents can no longer discuss their child’s medical care with doctors or make medical decisions on their behalf once their child turns 18 (in most states). Here again, if there’s an emergency and there’s no Health Care Directive in place, parents may have to ask a court to appoint them their child’s guardian so they can make medical decisions for their child who is over the age of 18.
I recently had clients bring their son in to sign his Power of Attorney and Health Care Directive on his 18th birthday. While he wasn’t exactly thrilled with the gift (hopefully they gave him cash, too!), he was a good sport. In signing those documents, he put his parents’ minds at ease and gave himself a safety net by ensuring that his parents could continue to look after his best interests should he ever become incapacitated and unable to do so for himself.
3) Simple Will.
Does your teenager have some prized possessions? A coveted pair of Jordans or an expensive stereo system? Maybe a beloved pet? Many people don’t know when to make a will. Is 18 the best age to make a will? Most younger adults do not need a complicated will or estate plan. However, a simple will may be advisable as it allows the recent graduate to determine who will get their possessions and who will oversee wrapping up their affairs and settling the estate. Having a will in place may also make the probate process easier for surviving family members if the unthinkable happens.
I’ve worked with many teenage clients through the years, and each process is unique. One of my recent teenage clients took this process incredibly seriously, making her choices carefully and asking lots of valuable questions. Another recent client was over it before she entered my office for our initial meeting, doling out eye rolls as I asked questions and explained the documents.
No matter their reactions or how they act in my office, I know these young adults are fortunate because, along with love and protection, their parents have gifted them with some peace of mind.